How to protect the kidneys from COVID-19

Friday 04 September 2020

Dr Mitchell Sullivan has been awarded a 2020 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship from the Queensland Government to fund his research into diabetic kidney disease and COVID-19.

The Industry Research Fellowship is targeted at supporting PhD qualified researchers in undertaking original research that will benefit Queensland. Considering the current global COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the funding round was changed to focus on fellowships that support COVID-19 research.

Mitchell explains he had previously been exploring the link between diabetes and diabetic kidney disease under Professor Josephine Forbes at the Translational Research Institute however as COVID-19 emerged he quickly changed the direction of his research on this new issue.

“It has been discovered that people with either diabetes or diabetic kidney disease who contract COVID-19 are more severely impacted and up to seven times more likely to die from the disease,” Mitchell said.  

“Researchers have reported that 30 per cent of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalised suffered severe kidney damage. We believe COVID-19 causes kidney damage potentially as a result of the virus invading the kidney cells or due to whole-body inflammation resulting from the immune system trying to fight the disease.

“We are currently using a drug to restore the cell power stations or the mitochondria in the kidneys to protect them from damage. We hope the use of this drug will save the most vulnerable members of the population from succumbing to more severe forms of the disease.”

Mitchell explains this treatment would not only help to protect people with diabetic kidney disease who contact COVID-19 but future proof patients from other potential coronavirus outbreaks or pneumonia. 

“This drug may not only help patients with COVID-19 but those who have diabetes as one third of people with diabetes will go on to develop diabetic kidney disease. This treatment could be of significant benefits to these patients and reduce the impact of diabetes on the global health care system,” Mitchell said.

“With COVID-19 threatening to put unprecedented strain on the capacity of both intensive care units and nephrology units one of the most important things for myself is to ensure my research meets the needs of the patients, their families and the healthcare system.

“Thanks to this grant I am able to continue my research into an area of great need and hopefully provide patients with hope for the future.”