Pierre Ronco: a World Expert in Kidney Disease

Pierre Ronco, member of the French National Academy of Medicine and the Institut Universitaire de France, leads a research team with an interest in membranous glomerulonephritis, an auto-immune disease that can lead to kidney failure. In 2012, he was awarded an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to further knowledge of this disease.

Pierre Ronco © Inserm/Begouen, Etienne

Could you tell us about your career so far and your current fields of research?

My medical studies were relatively conventional. During my internship, I met two great masters who have been my role models. One is Gabriel Richet, who furthered nephrology at Necker and Tenon hospitals, and Maxime Seligmann, a great immunopathologist. In parallel, I was introduced to research by Pierre Verroust, a physician immunologist. That was at the beginning of the 1980s.

I'm currently the director of Inserm's oldest research unit. We're working on membranous glomerulonephritis and are among the world's leading experts on the subject. Another team, directed by Christos Chatziantoniou, aims to identify biomarkers that can be used to predict the progression of renal diseases in order to find new therapies. In translational research, the two teams complement each other very much.

For which project were you awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in 2012?

The project in question focuses on membranous glomerulonephritis, for which we had identified the first antigen implicated in humans - neutral endopeptidase - in 2002. In 2011, we identified the predisposition genes, the HLA complex genes, and the PLA2R gene which codes for the major antigen implicated.

So, we sought to deepen our understanding of the genetic factors that predispose to membranous glomerulonephritis, and to identify biomarkers of disease progression or remission. The third objective was to find new therapies.

What discoveries have you made in this domain?

We've identified a large number of genetic variants, in relation to the HLA and PLA2R loci, which represent factors of predisposition to the disease. With Hanna Debiec, we’ve just made quite a significant clinical discovery: the risks of relapse following transplant are in fact influenced by the genetic variants of the donor and not the recipient. This means that we'll be able to choose the “best donors” for patients with membranous glomerulonephritis.

Now what remains for us to do is to identify what triggers the disease (why do some patients one day develop this disease?) and to develop new drugs from the compounds we’ve selected.

How has the ERC enabled you to further your project?

For us, the ERC has been a paradigm shift! We've gone from funding of around 300,000 euros, to a budget of 2,500,000 euros. This has meant that my group can embark on research that wouldn't have been possible otherwise because of the considerable resources required. We've been able to develop programs that are a lot more innovative.

You have just been appointed Editor-in-Chief of Kidney International, is that right?

Yes, that's right and it’s a wonderful opportunity for me. Kidney International is one of the two leading nephrology journals and it's the first time that it has appointed a non-American as its Editor-in-Chief. It's extremely exciting for French and European nephrology!