Kidney researcher receives a million-euro funding

Academy Research Fellow, adjunct professor Sanna Lehtonen from the University of Helsinki Haartman Institute has been awarded substantial funding from the European Research Council (ERC) for her DiaDrug study focusing on renal diseases.

Sanna Lehtonen

Academy Research Fellow Sanna Lehtonen has been awarded the ERC Starting Grant for her research project on diabetic nephropathy. The ERC Starting Grant is awarded for five years and the maximum amount is two million euro.

Lehtonen’s group studies the kidney filtration function and particularly the development of albuminuria, which is associated with perturbation in this function. “Our research focuses on diabetic nephropathy, which is a serious renal complication caused by diabetes, and on the mechanisms leading to the onset of albuminuria associated with it,” says Lehtonen.

Diabetic nephropathy is seen in nearly one third of diabetic patients, and insulin resistance is linked with an increased risk of nephropathy.

“We analyse patophysiological changes typical in the early stages of diabetic nefropathy and albuminuria, particularly the insulin response and glucose transport in podocytes and the role of perturbations in these functions in the onset of albuminuria,” says Lehtonen.

The group will develop transgenic zebra fish and mouse models for insulin-signalling chain molecules.

“With zebra fish models we aim to identify new drug leads that may eventually lead to indentifying molecules that affect the insulin resistance of cells. In other words, the purpose of our research is to enable improved treatment of diabetic nefropathy in future.”

ERC Starting Grant supports early-career top research leaders who have a few years’ experience in research and are about to establish or consolidate a research team of their own. The second ERC Starting Grant competition received 2,503 applications, and funding was awarded for 240 researchers.

“Receiving the ERC grant was fantastic news for me. Now I am able to employ a few more young researchers and we can do some things that we were earlier able to only dream about,” says Lehtonen.

Text: Päivi Lehtinen
Picture: University of Helsinki

Translation: AAC Noodi Oy

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