Most people know that heart disease and cancer can be deadly. But did you know that fibrosis (or, organ scarring) is responsible for nearly half of all deaths in the developed world? Forty-five per cent of chronic diseases in hospitals are related to fibrosis, and it is at the root of most types of heart and kidney failure. Medicine has yet to figure out how to treat the problem.
"We have hundreds of drugs for heart disease and various cancers, but almost nothing for fibrosis," says world-renowned endocrinologist Dr. Richard Gilbert, head of St. Michael’s Division of Endocrinology. "We owe it to our patients to change that."
So we are tackling fibrosis head on. We’ve launched One Focus, a fundraising campaign to create a new Transplant and Kidney Care Centre and support world-first fibrosis research.
SCAR WARS: A WORLD CENTRE FOR FIBROSIS RESEARCH
St. Michael’s is building a world-leading centre for scarring research, where clinicians and scientists from a range of disciplines are working to identify what causes scarring and how to treat it – or even reverse it. They are developing new diagnostic tests, inventing new drug therapies, and taking discoveries from the lab to the clinic.
Dr. Gilbert’s team has already made tremendous strides. One of the drugs it has developed, known as FT011, has been shown to be safe in humans. The next stage is a clinical trial involving people with diabetic kidney disease, the leading cause of kidney failure in Canada. Pending Health Canada approval, trials begins in 2019.
"We are maybe one of half a dozen research groups that started with an idea and progressed that idea right through to a clinical trial,"; says Dr. Gilbert. “It takes a long time. This is 16 years of work."
Another drug, known as FCR656, is intended to preserve the function of transplanted kidneys. All too often, donated kidneys deteriorate and eventually stop working. The cause is chronic allograft nephropathy (CAN), a condition that replaces normal kidney tissue with scarring. Until now, there have been no drugs to prevent or treat scar tissue formation. But in early studies with mice, FCR656 prevented excess scar tissue from forming. The next step is taking this transformative discovery to human studies.
WORLD-LEADING MRI STUDY
Drugs to stop, or reverse scarring are the holy grail of treatment, but if you already have fibrosis, it’s essential to know the condition of your affected organ.
Dr. Darren Yuen, a nephrologist at St. Michael’s, has conducted the world’s largest clinical trial in kidney scarring using MRI technology. While the current gold-standard diagnostic test for kidney scarring is a painful needle biopsy that can cause internal bleeding and extracts only a tiny sample, his new MRI test is painless, safe and can assess the entire kidney. It allows experts to diagnose the extent of scarring and predict the future health of kidneys in transplant patients. The safety and effectiveness of this procedure has proven so sound it has already changed how St. Michael’s patients are managed today. Now, all transplant patients requiring a biopsy at our centre will be screened via MRI.
St. Michael’s is at the forefront of discovery when it comes to scarring research, and our scientists have the potential to profoundly change the lives of patients everywhere. With your help, we can support the transformational work of the SCAR WARS team.