Prospective studies in informative populations are crucial to increasing our knowledge of disease. In this perspective, we describe a half century of studies in an American Indian population that transformed our understanding of kidney disease in type 2 diabetes, now recognized as the leading cause of kidney failure worldwide. Serial examinations conducted for many years that included the collection of data and samples across multiple domains captured an unprecedented volume of clinical, physiologic, morphometric, genomic, and transcriptomic data. This work permitted us to extensively characterize the course and determinants of diabetic kidney disease, its pathophysiologic underpinnings, and important secular trends of urgent concern to populations worldwide, including the emergence of youth-onset type 2 diabetes and its effect on development of diabetic kidney disease in midlife. By combining these data using the tools of integrative biology, we are developing new mechanistic insights into the development and progression of diabetic kidney disease in type 2 diabetes. These insights have already contributed to the identification and successful therapeutic targeting of a novel pathway in DKD. We anticipate that this work will continue to expand our understanding of this complex disease and influence its management in the coming years.

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