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Genetics may underlie some kidney failure in blacks

Gene variants protect against African sleeping sickness but may increase renal risk

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1:37pm, July 15, 2010

In a case of natural selection with a twist, genetic variants that confer protection against disease in Africa seem to place African Americans half a world away at elevated risk of kidney failure, a new study finds.

U.S. blacks are three times as likely as whites to develop chronic kidney disease. “We think this explains perhaps most of it,” says study coauthor Martin Pollak, a nephrologist and geneticist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The gene in question is called APOL-1, short for apolipoprotein L-1. Among people of African descent, APOL-1 can appear in two variant forms that protect against African sleeping sickness but also increase susceptibility to kidney failure, Pollak and his colleagues report online July 15 in Science.

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