Cats helping humans study kidney disease

3 minute read

Our feline friends just keep giving.

It is a well-established fact that cats are ever-flowing fountains of joy for humankind.

Not only do they protect our homes by glaring at guests from the windowsill, they also keep our reflexes sharp by switching from wanting pats to shredding our hands without any discernible forewarning, and pounce on our feet under bedsheets at 2am just to make sure we’ve not died in our sleep.

Now, we are finally trying to help them: by researching chronic kidney disease. This scourge affects 30 – 50% of cats aged 15 and above and has no cure.

We will now have a paragraph of silence for these cats before telling you anything else.

A team of researchers from the US and Indonesia decided to study the powers of CXCL12, which is not Elon Musk and Grimes’ baby but in fact something produced by cells to promote regeneration in damaged tissues.

The recombinant human form is apparently “commercially available and inexpensive,” which sounds a bit like it’s available at Bunnings, but the authors didn’t elaborate.

Thirty cats received 100, 200, or 400 nanogram intra-renal injections of CXCL12 or sterile saline 70 days post-injury(!) or were not injured nor injected.  

Apparently, all cats were fed dry Royal Canin Renal Special prescription diet, which is far more expensive than supermarket but does nothing to make up for the researchers inducing interstitial renal fibrosis in the cats via means I can’t bring myself to describe.

Four months later, the authors found the mid (200ng) and high (400ng) dose injections reduced both the collagen content of the affected kidneys, and collagen fibre width, restoring them to normal.

They noted that other studies have previously found contradictory results, including inflammatory effects of CXCL12, but those studies used physiologic CXCL12 whereas they used recombinant CXCL12.

Fourteen trusting “client-owned cats” with potential early kidney disease were then given either 200ng injections or kept as controls and monitored for nine months. Several of the untreated cats suffered disease progression but the treated cats either maintained the same disease stage or improved.  

“Bilateral intra-renal injection of CXCL12 using ultrasound guidance in cats with chronic kidney disease (CKD) was feasible and safe in a general practice clinical setting with no obvious side effects noted during the 9-month follow-up period,” the authors wrote in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

“The combined data from our pre-clinical and pilot studies suggest that intra-renal injection of recombinant CXCL12 may be a novel treatment for chronic renal fibrosis in cats with the potential for future use in other veterinary species and translational applications in humans.”

In the acknowledgements, the authors expressed “gratitude to the families in Indonesia whose beloved cats participated in our pilot study,” before thanking their human colleagues.

Read more: Frontiers in Veterinary Science 2021, 4 March

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