UCLA Scientist Dr. Ira Kurtz has received a $3 million gift from the Donald T. Sterling Foundation to fund research on the structural properties of key proteins in the kidney that affect its function in health and disease. His ultimate aim is the discovery of new molecular approaches, which will aid in the development of drugs to treat patients with various kidney disorders.
"This gift will play a key role in accelerating the success of ongoing research projects in my lab," said Kurtz, a professor of medicine, who holds the Factor Chair in nephrology and serves as chief of the division of nephrology at UCLA. "There is currently a worldwide epidemic of kidney disease today. More than 500 million people worldwide have some form of kidney damage. Millions of people are affected and die each year, and a disproportionate number in the Unites States are African Americans, Latinos and other minorities."
A major goal of Kurtz's basic research program is to understand the fundamental biological processes affecting kidney function at the molecular level. One of the focuses of his lab is to unravel the atomic structure of various proteins in the kidney that contribute to kidney disease.
The proteins he studies reside either in the plasma membrane surrounding the cell, called membrane proteins, or are located inside the cell in the cytoplasm, called soluble proteins. He and his team utilize a range of methodologies, including x-ray crystallography, biochemical, cell and molecular biology, and genetic approaches to understand the structure and functional properties of kidney proteins.
By closely studying the structure of both membrane and soluble kidney proteins, Kurtz and his team hope to be able to design new therapeutics that target specific disease-causing proteins, while leaving other normal proteins unaffected.
"Determining the structure of these disease-causing proteins is vital for designing very specific drugs," he said. "If we are successful, we have the great benefit of being able to use much lower doses of a particular drug, which is very beneficial to patients, since side effects and unwanted symptoms are significantly reduced."
In the United States alone, more than 25 million people suffer from some degree of kidney function impairment, and more than 600,000 patients are on dialysis or have received a kidney transplant at a cost of more than $32 billion annually to taxpayers, Kurtz said.