Nick Ashton is a Senior Lecturer in Physiology in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health and is also affiliated with the Cardiovascular, Metabolic and Nutritional Sciences research domain.
Nick obtained his first degree in Zoology from the University of Sheffield (1983) before joining Prof Richard Balment’s group at Manchester for his PhD in renal physiology (1987). His initial postdoctoral training saw a change of direction to study the exocrine pancreas with Prof Roger Green (Manchester) and Prof Barry Argent (Newcastle). However, he returned to the kidney, which has remained his primary interest, with a postdoctoral position in 1991 at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.
Upon returning to the UK in 1993, Nick took up a lectureship in Physiology at the University of Sunderland where he established an independent laboratory studying the developmental origins of cardio-renal disease. In 1998 he returned to Manchester to take up a lectureship in Physiology and to renew collaborations with the renown Manchester Renal Group.
Nick has published over 50 peer reviewed papers in the area of renal physiology and hypertension. His work has been funded by the British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and BBSRC. He has successfully supervised 11 PhD students and currently has 3 PhD students in the lab. Nick is currently an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE and has served on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Hypertension and the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. He is a member of the external referee panel for Kidney Research UK.
My interest is in the kidneys: how they control blood pressure and what happens when things go wrong. The kidneys are responsible for ensuring that we excrete water, salt and other waste products in the urine. Normally they are very good at balancing our daily intake of water and nutrients in food against losses in the urine. However when this goes wrong an individual may develop high blood pressure (hypertension) which can lead to heart disease and may ultimately be fatal. Other diseases, such as diabetes, can damage the kidneys and impair their ability to function normally, making the situation worse. Research in my laboratory focuses on two areas of kidney function: (i) The role played a hormone called urotensin II in kidney disease arising from high blood pressure and diabetes. By understanding how and why urotensin II affects kidney function in disease, we are developing ways to prevent damage to the kidneys. (ii) Growth and function of an unborn baby’s kidneys can be altered permanently, leading to high blood pressure in later life, if the mother has a poor diet or is stressed during her pregnancy. Our work aims to understand how this process can be prevented or reversed.
My research focuses on kidneys in health and disease: how can changes in kidney development have a life-long impact on health and how can we improve the health of aging kidneys? I take an integrative approach to these studies, combining whole animal physiology with molecular approaches to identify mechanistic pathways. My laboratory focuses on two major themes:
1. Developmental programming of renal function: how does the maternal environment in utero affect the developing kidney and its subsequent regulation of blood pressure? The developing kidney is particularly susceptible to an adverse intrauterine environment, which may cause long term structural and functional changes that predispose the individual to hypertension in later life. We have shown that feeding a low protein diet during pregnancy alters expression of the renin-angiotensin system and key renal sodium transporters, disturbing the regulation sodium homeostasis and leading to the onset of hypertension. We are now focussing our attention on the impact of intermittent fasting during pregnancy, which is common among Muslim women during Ramadan, to understand how maternal food restriction affects the developing fetal kidney. The overall aim of our work is to better understand how the maternal environment influences renal development.
2. Regenerative medicine therapy for kidney disease: in conjunction with colleagues at the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, we are developing cell-based therapies to treat kidney failure. There is a shortage of donor kidneys for transplantation, yet many organs from older donors are currently unused because they do not recover enough function following the period of ischaemia that accompanies transplantation. We are developing therapies involving regenerative cells which can improve the survival of transplanted kidneys, with the aim of making more of these unused kidneys available for transplant patients.
PhD opportunities are available in both of these research areas.