Researchers have identified an important mechanism behind the failure of the kidney's filtering process.
The condition, which is called proteinuria, occurs when protein leaks from the blood into the urine. Diabetics and people with high blood pressure are particularly at risk.
A team from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that a specific enzyme's processing of the protein dynamin governs the success of filtering.
The discovery may enable the development of therapies, which would use altered forms of dynamin to restore kidney function.
A joint collaboration between two independent MGH renal research teams, the study was led by Dr Jochen Reiser and Dr Sanja Sever, both of whom are assistant professors of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr Reiser said: "Proteinuria affects hundreds of millions of people around the world and is a significant risk factor for kidney failure and cardiovascular complications."
Dr Sever added: "To our knowledge, this is the first successful attempt to improve kidney structure and function directly and suggests a potential therapy for proteinuria associated with several disorders."
The study appears in the August edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.