Good kidney health begins before birth

Researchers have found that conditions in the womb can affect kidney development and have serious health implications for the child not only immediately after birth, but decades later.

In a paper published today in The Lancet an international team, including Monash University's Professor John Bertram and the University of Queensland's Professor Wendy Hoy, reviewed existing, peer-reviewed research on kidney health and developmental programming - the effects of the in utero environment on adult health.

The accumulated evidence linked and prematurity - risk factors for and chronic kidney disease later in life - with low numbers of the kidney's filtration units or .

In Australia, around 30 per cent of the has high blood pressure and one in nine has at least one clinical symptom of . The incidence of both diseases is significantly higher in Indigenous populations.

Professor Bertram, Head of the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, has been researching nephrons for two decades.

"The kidney is particularly sensitive to life before birth because we stop making nephrons at 36 weeks gestation. So, for a baby born at term, the process of nephron formation is finished and it cannot be restarted," Professor Bertram said.

Humans are born with an average of one million nephrons and lose up to 6000 each year. However, Professor Bertram's research has shown there is a huge variance in nephron number - from just over 200,000 to around two million. Further, nephron number is positively related to - a low birth weight equates to low nephron number and larger babies have a higher nephron number.

Given that low birth weight occurs in 15 per cent of worldwide, the study has implications for maternal health and clinical screening processes.

"In terms of maternal health during pregnancy, things like a high fat diet, , various antibiotics and stress hormones have been shown to have a negative impact on foetal kidney development, although more research needs to be done," Professor Bertram said.

"Further, given the strong associations between birth weight, nephron number and disease later in life, and the fact that a baby's weight is routinely recorded in many countries, we suggest that birth weight should be a parameter that clinicians use to determine how often a patient is screened for kidney function or given a blood pressure test.

"Although a newborn may appear perfect, if their birth weight is low, there may be consequences 40 years down the line. We could be proactive about detecting these diseases in the early stages."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Powerful imaging tool unlocks kidneys' secrets

May 20, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—A powerful new way of imaging kidneys is providing scientists with insights into the importance of the body's filtering system and how it is affected by cardiovascular disease, stroke and ...

Helping preterm babies get the best start

Jun 27, 2011

Babies born prematurely could be at greater risk of developing kidney diseases later in life according to a landmark study investigating the impacts of preterm birth on kidney development.

Recommended for you

Antiseptic prevents deaths in newborns

3 hours ago

A low-cost antiseptic used to cleanse the cord after birth could help reduce infant death rates in developing countries by 12%, a systematic review published in The Cochrane Library suggests. Authors of the review found ...

LA story: Cleaner air, healthier kids

10 hours ago

A 20-year study finds that millennial children in Southern California breathe easier than ones who came of age in the '90s, for a reason as clear as the air in Los Angeles today.

Better midlife fitness may slow brain aging

10 hours ago

People with poor physical fitness in their 40s may have lower brain volumes by the time they hit 60, an indicator of accelerated brain aging, according to new research presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.