The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) – part of the National Institutes of Health – has renewed a grant shared by the University of California, San Diego and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Schools of Medicine. The five-year, $5.64 million renewal will extend and expand research into acute kidney failure, or acute kidney injury, which kills 70 to 80 percent of patients in intensive care units who develop the disease.
The rate of acute kidney injury has increased in recent years as more patients are older, diabetic, obese and hypertensive, and mortality rates from the disease have not improved in the past 40 years.
Since 2008, researchers at the two universities have joined forces as part of the O’Brien Center for Acute Kidney Injury Research, one of seven 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 disease.
The center serves as a national core resource to identify and fund promising research and to provide important scientific services to the funded investigators, including work to find genetic determinants for early detection and expand an international registry.
“The O’Brien Center has provided an unprecedented opportunity for UC San Diego School of Medicine to partner with UAB over the past five years to create a unique resource for acute kidney injury research,” said Ravindra L. Mehta, MD, professor of clinical medicine at UC San Diego Health System and associate director of the center. “Combining the resources at both centers has enabled us to develop an international collaborative network of investigators who are addressing several important questions in acute kidney injury.”
Their efforts resulted in more than 640 collaborative interactions among researchers and more than 175 peer-reviewed scientific publications. A total of $570,000 has been awarded to 15 pilot projects of young investigators, which in turn garnered an additional $7 million in new extramural funding.
Several ongoing projects leverage the O’Brien infrastructure at both institutions, including an ongoing international registry that is capturing data on the natural history and management of acute kidney injury and a study defining the genetic basis of drug-induced kidney injury. The continued funding will allow researchers to further enhance the collaborative network and provide additional novel techniques for the functional characterization of acute kidney injury.
“Ultimately we hope the enhanced awareness and concentrated research in acute kidney injury will lead to major advances to improve outcomes from this devastating disease,” Mehta said.
Kidneys filter toxins from the body and receive 20 percent of the body’s blood supply. Acute kidney injury results from a cascade of events, beginning with a sudden drop in blood supply that can result from an infection, an infusion of contrast agents during an angiogram, or major trauma. The kidneys become impaired, toxins accumulate and other organs – the brain, heart, lungs, liver – begin to shut down.
Acute kidney injury affects about 1.2 million hospitalized patients per year, and 300,000 people die annually from the disease – a mortality rate that is more than breast and prostate cancer and heart failure and diabetes combined. Nearly 30 percent of patients with acute kidney injury do not recover kidney function completely, contributing to the growing burden of chronic kidney disease. Numerous therapeutic interventions have been evaluated in clinical trials without success. In most instances, a patient needs dialysis by acute kidney injury is diagnosed.
“We hope the assembled researchers can find biomarkers that can be used to measure and help with diagnosing the condition before it reaches these levels. We are confident that, working together, we will be able to accelerate the development of novel therapies to prevent and manage acute kidney injury,” said UAB nephrologist Anupam Agarwal, MD, who leads the 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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