Better understanding the impacts of pregnancy on kidneys

Computational models reveal the effects of pregnancy on kidneys.


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Using computational models, scientists at the University of Waterloo are trying to understand pregnancy’s impacts on kidneys. This study could help understand the physiology of the kidneys during pregnancy.

Scientists want to know how kidneys change during pregnancy. They are also keen to understand how increased strain on the kidneys can lead to gestational diseases.

Preeclampsia is one condition that occurs during pregnancy. It is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure that may lead to organ damage. Sometimes, it also affects the kidneys.

Melissa Stadt, a master’s researcher in applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, said, “One thing that happens during pregnancy is that plasma volume expands to supply a developing fetus and placenta. There’s also extra sodium and potassium retention, which are essential electrolytes during pregnancy. Everything about pregnancy means a lot more work for the kidneys.”

Scientists used computer simulations that show kidney function during mid- and late pregnancy. These in-silico experiments, because they are essentially conducted in the silicon of computer chips, provide a way to simulate different kinds of strain on the kidneys that would otherwise not be possible to test in live pregnancies without substantial risk.

Anita Layton, professor of applied mathematics and Canada 150 Research Chair in mathematical biology and medicine at the University of Waterloo, said“What’s powerful about computational modeling is that we can do trials that we could never do in live experiments. We can easily change one parameter and see the implications. Once we have the working model, we can see how these changes affect pregnancy.”

“While computational models of organs like the kidneys are only ever approximations of what may happen in a specific individual case, they are a safe, cost-effective and timely way to conduct trials, not just of the various impacts pregnancy may have on the kidneys, but also of potential treatments and medications.”

“If things go wrong in pregnancy, it can affect the mother for the rest of their life, and the growing fetus is susceptible to any complications that affect the mother’s organs. That’s where our models come in. Unfortunately, there’s a big gap in medical research related to all the changes in the kidneys of pregnant women. So our research is trying to make some progress and help improve health outcomes during pregnancy.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Melissa M. Stadt and Anita T. Layton. Adaptive changes in single-nephron GFR, tubular morphology, and transport in a pregnant rat nephron: modeling and analysis. DOI: 10.1152/ajprenal.00264.2021


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