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University of Leicester Receives Biggest ever Gift from an Individual - £2.7 Million - for Transformative Kidney Research

publication date: Jun 2, 2017
 | 
author/source: University of Leicester

Funding by entrepreneur Mr Jimmy Mayer to establish world’s first register of patients with disease that is one of the biggest causes of kidney failure globally

University of Leicester

The University of Leicester has received its biggest ever single gift from a private  individual - £2.7 million- which will be used to fund life-saving kidney research of global significance in the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology.

The funding has been welcomed by the UK IgA Nephropathy Patient Group because of its potential to understand and eventually develop new drugs to treat one of the leading causes of kidney failure - IgA Nephropathy - across the world and to aid a global alliance of researchers to battle it in different populations.

The donation was announced at the University of Leicester This is the second large gift Mr Mayer has made to further renal research at the University. In 2014, he gave £500,000 to the Leicester research team to fund the IgA Nephropathy research programme.

Mr Mayer, a philanthropist, explained his personal motivation to fund the fight against kidney disease. He said: 

“When my son was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy in 2012 I, as any father, started to research to better understand this condition; I wanted to know what could be done and how I could modestly contribute to these efforts.  

“Through my investigation I became acutely aware of the broader implication of kidney disease in our society.  I also came across the great work of the fabulous team at Leicester.  I hopped on a train for a visit and have ever since been their number one fan.  It seemed to me that with a grant of this type they could continue to build on a very solid foundation.  

“It is my sincere hope that with these efforts they can make significant progress toward a more complete understanding of IgA Nephropathy, improved treatment options and, perhaps even, a cure.”

The funding will create dedicated research facilities - The Mayer IgA Nephropathy Laboratories - as well as a named Professorship - the Mayer Chair in Renal Medicine – at the University.

The vital funding will support the work of a research group at the University of Leicester led by Professor Jonathan Barratt of the Department of Infection Immunity & Inflammation at the University. He is also an Honorary Consultant Nephrologist in the John Walls Renal Unit, Leicester General Hospital.  Professor Barratt will hold the title of the Mayer Chair in Renal Medicine.

The researchers aim to further understand mechanisms that lead to the development and progression of IgA Nephropathy and to establish the world’s first international registry of IgA Nephropathy patients. 

IgA Nephropathy is a condition in which an individual’s own antibodies, which are produced naturally to fight infections, settle in the kidneys and damage them by causing inflammation and scarring. Patients often do not display symptoms. As a result, most affected people are unaware they have the condition until they have a blood or urine test. The causes are not fully known and, in extreme cases, the condition can cause kidney failure.

Scientists at the University of Leicester have been investigating the condition for over 30 years. It is the excellence and transformative potential of their research that has led to this generous donation.

Professor Barratt said:

 “This donation will transform our approach to the study of this common cause of kidney disease. We will, for the first time, be able to compare how IgA Nephropathy behaves in populations from South America through to Asia. By comparing different populations, with different genetic risk factors and exposure to different environmental stresses such as diet, pollution and prevalent infections, we hope to identify the key factors that cause IgA Nephropathy and which of these determine whether a patient with IgA Nephropathy develops kidney failure.

“Over the past three years I have got to know Jimmy and his son, David, and they have been incredibly supportive of our work here in Leicester. Both Jimmy and David have shown a keen interest in the recent scientific advances in kidney disease and have shown a real passion for understanding our work and how we are studying IgA nephropathy. It is true to say that without their support the Leicester IgA Nephropathy group would not have had the same degree of scientific success we have experienced over the past three years.”

Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology, said:

“The University of Leicester has a strong commitment to investing in the best science for kidney research. The IgA Nephropathy research group is the largest research group investigating this disease in the UK, and this generous gift will allow it to extend its important work still further. We look forward to establishing this crucial registry, and using it to help both existing and new collaborators further their research into the treatment, prevention and cure of kidney disease.”

As a first step, this funding will lead to the establishment of the world’s first international

registry of IgA Nephropathy patients. The registry will follow the same format as the UK National Registry of Rare Kidney Diseases (RaDaR) and will collect carefully clinically characterised data from IgA Nephropathy patients across Europe, Asia and South America. The data will be linked to locally stored bio specimens collected according to a standardised collection protocol.

The clinical data and samples will be used by the Leicester group and their collaborators around the world in the following areas of research:

  • Epidemiology of IgA Nephropathy: Work to more accurately describe the current risk of IgA Nephropathy in different populations both in their country of origin and following migration;
  • Impact of Environmental Factors: To better understand the role of the environment with respect to the development and progression of IgA Nephropathy;
  • Genetics: Conduct a focused review of genes of interest that are involved in regulating the body’s first line of defence against infection, given that defects in any or all of these genes may be responsible for the increased stimulation of the immune system characteristic of IgA Nephropathy;
  • Gut Microbiome: Define and compare the gut microbiome (the bacteria that normally live in the intestines) to determine if it changes over time in IgA Nephropathy, if it can help predict future risk of kidney failure and whether modifying the gut microbiome with probiotics alters the progression of IgA Nephropathy; 
  • Immune Response to New Antigens: Study the activation of the immune system in IgA Nephropathy in response to a new environmental antigen.

Professor Barratt said:

 “The hope is that by better understanding the causes of IgA Nephropathy it will be possible to develop better clinical tests to allow specialists to diagnose the disease earlier, to help clinicians tell which patients are at greatest risk of developing kidney failure if they have IgA Nephropathy and, perhaps most importantly, identify new targets for drugs to treat this important cause of kidney failure.”

The new funding has been welcomed by the UK IgA Nephropathy patient group as well as Kidney Research UK.

Mr Phil Smith, from the IgA Nephropathy patient group, said:

“This extremely generous award recognises the outstanding research in this area that is being undertaken in Leicester. The importance of achieving a cure for IgA Nephropathy is of international importance and would have massively positive outcomes for the life experiences of IgA Nephropathy patients, many of whom undergo dialysis and kidney transplantation as a result of it. The two very well attended national IgA Nephropathy patient days in Leicester in 2014 and Salford in 2016 were characterised by a call from all people with IgA Nephropathy there, for research to improve the treatment and eventual cure of IgA Nephropathy, a condition which affects significant numbers of young people as well as older patients and is often not diagnosed until this chronic kidney disease is well advanced.

“This significant donation from the Mayers will enable the team to build on their achievements to date, further accelerate their ground-breaking research and ultimately improve the prospects for IgA patients through earlier detection and better treatments.”

Kidney Research UK Chief Executive, Sandra Currie, said: 

“Kidney Research UK is delighted to hear about this very generous gift to the renal research team at the University of Leicester. We are proud to have had a long and close association with the team, having invested over £0.75m in IgA Nephropathy research at Leicester over the last few years.”

Mr Bill Friar, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at the University of Leicester, said: 

“We are so grateful to Mr. Jimmy Mayer for his generous gift, which will transform not only our own kidney research but also help researchers around the world. It is a testament to the quality of IgA Nephropathy research at the University of Leicester that he has made a second major donation to our work. I know the Mayer family want their support to raise awareness and encourage others to contribute in any way they can. We are working with Jimmy and David on ways to use their inspiring example to encourage others to make their own gifts, of any size, to further potentially life-saving research into kidney disease.”


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