News Release

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

New atlas of human kidney cells to help unlock kidney disease research

NIH-funded effort provides interactive resource for global research community.

In a major breakthrough toward understanding and treating kidney disease, a nationwide research team funded by the National Institutes of Health has created the most comprehensive atlas of the human kidney. Data from the Kidney Tissue Atlas will allow the comparison of healthy kidney cells to those injured by kidney disease, helping investigators understand the factors that contribute to the progression of kidney disease and kidney failure or recovery from injury. The atlas, part of the Kidney Precision Medicine Project (KPMP), was supported by NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), as published in Nature.

Due to the complexity of the kidney, scientists have struggled to develop kidney models that accurately represent human kidney structures and function. The lack of human kidney models has limited the ability to develop new drugs to treat or prevent kidney disease.

The Kidney Tissue Atlas comprises maps of 51 main kidney cell types that include rare and novel cell populations, 28 kidney cellular states that represent injury or disease, a repository of raw gene data, and interactive 3D models of cells and microenvironment relationships created from 45 healthy donor kidneys and 48 kidney disease biopsies. The atlas thus establishes a critical foundation for KPMP’s overall goal to help discover new treatments for chronic kidney disease (CKD) and acute kidney injury (AKI), medical conditions that present a significant global health burden. The publicly available data created by KPMP, including all 3D renderings and analytical tools, can be accessed at

“KPMP’s new atlas represents open, public science at its best,” said Dr. Eric Brunskill, KPMP program director in NIDDK’s Division of Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic Diseases. “With the atlas, we’ve created an interactive, hypothesis-generating resource for kidney disease investigators and clinicians around the world.”

While CKD and AKI have historically been described as single, uniform diseases, KPMP builds on growing consensus that kidney disease can have several different root causes and disease pathways leading to subgroups of CKD and AKI. Instead of a “one size fits all” approach to treating kidney disease, precision medicine explores more personalized treatments. KPMP’s kidney atlas is intended to help identify disease subgroups within CKD and AKI, leading to the discovery of new, and possibly individualized, ways to treat CKD and AKI.

The study also received support from the Human Cell Atlas initiative, an international research effort to gather information on at least 10 billion human cells, and NIH’s Human BioMolecular Atlas Program (HuBMAP). HuBMAP’s goal is to develop an open and global platform to map healthy cells in the human body; the KPMP and HuBMAP teams worked closely to align the outputs of this molecular atlas as an example of cross-consortia collaborations.

“KPMP brings together the best of new technology, patient engagement, and partnership, and represents an evolution in the way we think about kidney disease,” said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. “We’re confident the Kidney Tissue Atlas will help us discover new ways to get the right kidney disease treatment to the right patient at the right time.”

Data related to this research are available for request at the NIDDK Central Repository.

Research reported in this study was funded by NIDDK (grants U2C DK114886, UH3 DK114861, UH3 DK114866, UH3 DK114870, UH3 DK114908, UH3 DK114915, UH3 DK114926, UH3 DK114907, UH3 DK114923 and UH3 DK114933). The research was also supported by National Institute of Health (S10 OD026929), National Cancer Institute (P30 CA91842), and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1 TR002345). HuBMAP is supported by NIH (OT2 D033760), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (U54 HL145608), and NIDDK (U54 DK134301). Additional NIH support was provided by NIDDK (K08 DK107864, R01 DK111651, P01 DK056788, U2C DK114886, U54 DK083912, P30 DK081943, K23 DK125529, and U54 DK083912), National Institute of Mental Health (U01 MH114828), and National Cancer Institute (UH3 CA246632).

About the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK): The NIDDK, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducts and supports research on diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutrition and obesity; and kidney, urologic and hematologic diseases. Spanning the full spectrum of medicine and afflicting people of all ages and ethnic groups, these diseases encompass some of the most common, severe, and disabling conditions affecting Americans. For more information about the NIDDK and its programs, see


About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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