Public Release: 

Federal grant extends, expands kidney failure research

The grant will extend and expand research into acute kidney failure, or acute kidney injury, which affects about 1.2 million hospitalized patients per year and kills 70 to 80 percent of patients in intensive care units who develop the disease.

University of Alabama at Birmingham

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IMAGE: This is Anupam Agarwal, M.D., director of the Division of Nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the director of the O'Brien Center for Acute Kidney Injury Research.... view more 

Credit: University of Alabama at Birmingham

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has renewed a grant shared by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine that will extend and expand research into acute kidney failure, or acute kidney injury, which affects about 1.2 million hospitalized patients per year and kills 70 to 80 percent of patients in intensive care units who develop the disease.

The grant, which is worth $5.67 million, will fund the O'Brien Center for Acute Kidney Injury Research for another five years. The center is one of eight federally funded centers in the country aimed at making state-of-the-art technologies and resources readily accessible to researchers pursuing studies in relevant areas related to kidney diseases. The center serves as a national core resource to identify and fund promising research and to provide important scientific services to the funded investigators.

"Acute kidney injury causes more deaths per year than breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart failure and diabetes combined," said Anupam Agarwal, M.D., director of the Division of Nephrology at UAB. "The center helps with our mission to improve the health of patients by fostering research that is centered on the prevention and treatment of AKI and its complications."

Agarwal has led the O'Brien Center since 2008 when UAB received the first award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The grant will fund the center through 2023.

"The O'Brien Center has helped fund research, recruit faculty and increase the number of existing pilot programs," Agarwal said. "Since the grant was renewed for the second time in 2013, UAB has recruited 19 new faculty members to our nephrology program. A large reason they came here is the resources available through the center."

"We focus on understanding the relationship of acute kidney injury to development of chronic kidney disease and developing novel strategies to map the continuum of the disease for targeted interventions," said Ravindra L. Mehta, M.D., nephrologist and professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "The center offers several biomarker assays to evaluate kidney injury and function to improve diagnosis, identify targets for intervention and help in decision-making for physicians managing patients with these diseases."

The center has catalyzed significant growth of kidney-related research at UAB and UC San Diego. As of October 2017, the total kidney-related National Institutes of Health funding increased by 38 percent from 2012 to $32.6 million, and funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has nearly doubled from $8.2 million to $15.5 million.

"The center enables our investigators pursuing kidney-related research to have state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technologies that they can utilize without having to set it up in their own laboratories," Agarwal said.

This cycle will offer a new resource that researchers hope will advance their findings. For the first time, investigators will have access to a biorepository of human kidney tissue and human blood and urine samples.

"A big problem in kidney research is that a lot of people do research on animal models and they find a drug that is very effective; but when they perform the clinical trial, it doesn't work," Agarwal explained. "Having access to biopsied human kidney tissue will enable researchers to use the tissue to verify their data from the animal model before they begin a clinical trial."

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Mehta serves as the director for the Clinical Core. Paul Sanders, M.D., is the director for the Preclinical Core. Stephen Barnes, Ph.D., is the director for the Bioanalytical Core, and Gary Cutter, Ph.D., is the director of the Biostatistical Resource for the O'Brien Center.

O'Brien Centers were established in 1987 and named for George M. O'Brien, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois from 1973 until his death from prostate cancer in 1986.

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