Vivek Bhalla is used to the question, what’s a nephrologist? When we admitted we’d never had one on the program, he made his own admission, saying that the kinds of people who became nephrologists are the kinds of people who don’t seek out the limelight.
But Vivek, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford, is changing that and speaking out on behalf of his profession. And he’s very excited about what single cell sequencing has done for the study of the kidney.
“The people who developed single cell RNA sequencing probably weren’t thinking about kidney physiology or kidney disease when they developed it, but they developed a tailor made technique for nephrology," says Vivek.
Why? It has something to do with the fact that kidneys are made up of nephrons which in turn are made up of a sequence of specialized cells. Because there are so many kinds of cells that run next to each other, it is difficult to extract one type of cell from another.
“That has hampered our understanding of how each of these segments work and has slowed the field compared to other fields where an organ is much more homogeneous, such as the liver or the heart where the bulk of the tissue is made of cardiomyocytes. In the kidney there are fourteen different segments along the nephron."
Sounds great. So what new possibilities in the science and in clinical applications are opened up by all of this?