Relieving the pain of kidney stones

GlycoNet Network Investigator Dr. Paul Spagnuolo. Photo courtesy University of Guelph.

by Bernie Poitras

The power and promise of carbohydrate molecules

For anyone who has suffered from kidney stones, the painful condition is not easily treatable, and patients are typically prescribed strong pain medication and fluids to alleviate symptoms. More stubborn stones can require surgery.

GlycoNet-funded research is testing the safety and efficacy of a glycoside, called arbutin, which is extracted from the bearberry plant. The molecule has shown a remarkable ability to break up kidney stones in pre-clinical studies.

The Kidney Foundation of Canada estimates 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from kidney stones.  They occur much more commonly in men than in women and they tend to affect people in middle age, and occur more frequently in hot climates.

“In collaboration with the Lawson Health Research Institute, we discovered this molecule that is very good at dissolving kidney stones,” says Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, Network Investigator and Professor at the University of Guelph. “Arbutin has a greater affinity for calcium and because most kidney stones are formed by a bond between calcium and an oxalate, this molecule interacts with the kidney stone, pulls it apart and dissolves it.”

Spagnuolo says glycomics research is impacting the way we look at treatments and therapies for illnesses.

“What our research shows is that the most powerful molecule to help dissolve kidney stones is one that was glycosylated,” says Spagnuolo, who received a translational grant from GlycoNet to conduct his research. “There is a lot of power and promise in studying carbohydrate molecules.”

“This treatment has far reaching potential especially if we are able to move it into human testing and beyond the bench,” he says.

Spagnuolo and his team are in the midst of testing the safety and efficacy of the molecule and expect to be finished this stage of their research by the end of 2018. GlycoNet funding allows Spagnuolo to use the pre-clinical data to move the research into a Phase 1 clinical trial and hopefully translate it into a commercial product.  Spagnuolo has recently licensed the patent for arbutin to SP Nutraceuticals Inc., a company he co-founded which commercializes novel nutraceuticals.

GlycoNet’s funding allows us to build the foundation of the research,” says Spagnuolo. “Their funding support fills a gap between basic and advanced research and without it, we would not be able to do this research and development necessary to bring a product to market.”

Spagnuolo says there are few current treatments for kidney stones, so developing a novel therapy is exciting and promising for patients.

“We are working on making this available to patients in an oral format because as it stands right now, there are very few therapeutic options to treat kidney stones,” he says.

“For anyone who has had kidney stones, it is very painful,” he says. “Having this potentially be available to patients as an oral medication would be an enormous benefit to patients.”

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