Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 12, 2003

New research offers hope to sufferers of kidney disease

Recent discoveries by researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the University of Guelph could offer hope in the fight against kidney disease.

An AAFC research team was the first to purify a soy compound which colleagues from U of G subsequently found to lessen the effects of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in mice.

“This is a double-barrelled world-first, offering hope of future treatments for the thousands of Canadians suffering from PKD,” said AAFC’s Bill Collins, lead scientist on the project. “AAFC has developed and patented a process for obtaining a relatively pure soyasaponin with a potential to treat or prevent PKD in humans.”

PKD is characterized by the growth of fluid-filled cysts in the kidneys. The cysts can slowly replace much of the kidneys, reducing kidney function and leading to kidney failure.

“Our technology offers a glimmer of sunrise on the horizon for PKD suffers,” said Collins. “There is no treatment or cure yet, but we are the first out of the blocks with a good manufacturing process producing soyasaponins that are 99.5 per cent pure.”

Mice fed a diet based on a soy protein, isolated by the AAFC researchers, experienced health benefits which the researchers attribute to soy-derived saponins called soyasaponins.

The soyasaponins were extracted from commercially available soy “molasses” using a processing technology developed at AAFC’s Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa. Collaborators at U of G identified potential therapeutic activity in the mixture. This prompted further use of the AAFC technology to isolate and identify key soy compounds, one of which was produced in quantity for the mouse trials at U of G.

The details of the research were published in the April 2003 issue of Kidney International, a publication of the International Society of Nephrology. Along with Collins, Bruce Holub, Diana Philbrick and Dominique Bureau from the University of Guelph were co-investigators.

The collaborative effort to show soyasaponin curbs the progression of PKD in mice exemplifies the innovative science, advocated by the APF, to develop non-food products in areas such as medicine, health and nutrition.

The research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council, the Polycystic Kidney Research Foundation, the Ontario Soybean Growers, AAFC’s Matching Investment Initiative and the University of Guelph’s Hannam Soybean Utilization Fund.

“Soyasaponin is tasteless to humans and appears to present no side effects in the mouse model,” said Holub, Professor of Nutrition in the Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Science at the U of G. “The task for medical researchers is to initiate clinical trials in sufferers of PKD and determine its uptake and efficacy in the human body.”

AAFC and the U of G jointly hold the patent on the use of a soyasaponin to check PKD.

Work remains before the technology can be commercialized and licensed to a company able to undertake the work required to bring a product to market.

Gilles Saindon, AAFC’s Science Director for Bio-based Products and Processes observed, “As an agriculture scientist I am excited by the spin-off possibilities for the bio-based economy, such as new lines of high saponin soybean for Canadian producers, functional foods and nutraceuticals offering possibilities for processors, and health and nutrition benefits for Canadians.”

The Science and Innovation element of the national Agricultural Policy Framework (APF) emphasizes a team approach among governments, universities and the private sector to maximize Canada’s research resources.

The research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council, the Polycystic Kidney Research Foundation, the Ontario Soybean Growers, AAFC's Matching Investment Initiative and the University of Guelph's Hannam Soybean Utilization Fund.


Media Relations, AAFC
(613) 759-7972

Communications and Public Affairs, U of G
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338 or 56982.

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