Kidney research center launched with $5.7 million grant

A $5.7 million grant will establish a center at the School of Medicine that will investigate the underlying causes of kidney disease to speed the development of new treatments.

The center, directed by Marc R. Hammerman, M.D., the Chromalloy Professor of Renal Diseases in Medicine, is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Marc Hammerman

“Kidney disease is a devastating illness, and we don’t fully understand its causes,” said Hammerman, who also directs the Division of Renal Diseases and is a staff physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “The grant will establish core facilities within the renal division to focus scientists’ efforts to discover why kidneys fail.”

WUSTL was one of only three institutions to receive the funding to establish a kidney disease research center of this type.

“It’s a testimony to the depth and breadth of renal division faculty that NIH chose to base this center at Washington University,” Hammerman said.

An estimated 19 million Americans have chronic kidney disease, a condition that often develops gradually as the kidneys lose their ability to filter waste out of the bloodstream. Diabetes and high blood pressure are major risk factors, but certain forms of kidney disease run in families. Drugs that lower protein levels in the urine and help protect damaged kidneys from worsening over time are the mainstay treatment.

“But these medications are fairly broad-based, and they can’t cure the disease,” Hammerman said. “If we understood the biological basis that underlies different types of kidney disease, we would have a better idea about how to treat these conditions.”

The grant brings together a tour de force of 43 basic scientists and clinical researchers at WUSTL, and 12 investigators at several other academic medical centers in the United States and worldwide. Their overarching mission will be to better understand the way the kidney develops, including the role that particular genes play in the structure and function of the organ. The investigators also hope to determine how abnormalities in genes and their expression increase an individual’s risk of developing kidney disease.

In addition to Hammerman, key investigators in the center include Daniel Brennan, M.D., professor of medicine; Jeffrey Miner, Ph.D., professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology; Aubrey Morrison, M.B.B.S., professor of medicine; Raphael Kopan, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and pharmacology; Andrey Shaw, M.D., the Emil Unanue Professor of Pathology and Immunology; Sanjay Jain, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine; Helen Liapis M.D., associate professor of pathology and immunology and of medicine; Rakesh Nagarajan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and immunology; Mark Watson, M.D., Ph.D, associate professor of pathology and immunology; and Mark Schnitzler, Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University.