Today at the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center, vital work is underway to unlock the mysteries of kidney disease.

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Founder’s Story

Ken Kleinberg and Dr. Vito Campese
Ken Kleinberg and Dr. Vito Campese

When Ken Kleinberg’s kidneys failed in the year 2000, his physician, Dr. Vito Campese, then the head of Nephrology and Hypertension at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, recognized the malady, but acknowledged that its cause was not known to medical science. At the time, Dr. Campese described chronic kidney disease as a growing health crisis with no end in sight. Yet, very little kidney disease research was underway.

Together they created a nonprofit organization solely devoted to funding kidney disease research. They formed a board of directors and built a relationship with the Keck School of Medicine. In 2012, as a result of the partnership, the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center (KRC) was established on USC’s Health Sciences Campus.

Ken was a dialysis patient for six years and was fortunate to receive a cadaver kidney transplant in 2007. Today he is healthy and active as a practicing entertainment attorney and UKRO President.

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USC’s Synthetic Kidney Project: A Cutting-Edge Collaboration

Today the team at the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center is engaged in a major collaboration with the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research as well as other laboratories across USC. Together they are working to push the boundaries of research and build a synthetic kidney to replace normal kidney function in patients. While this project is still in its early stages, the ultimate goal is to generate a substitute, transplantable organ.

The project’s two leading investigators are uniquely positioned to take on this challenge. Andrew McMahon, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading authorities in stem cell research and commands an encyclopedic knowledge of kidney development. Zhongwei Li, Ph.D., specializes in creating the early building blocks of the kidney through the use of pluripotent stem cells.

Zhongwei Li and Andrew McMahon photos and titles

Funding The New Breakthrough

On October 18, 2021, UKRO’s Board of Directors unanimously approved our new mission statement.

UKRO is committed to funding the development of a revolutionary synthetic kidney, derived from stem cells, that will improve treatment of kidney disease and replace dialysis.

“A breakthrough like the synthetic kidney requires both private dollars and public support. We have the unique opportunity to change the course of medical history and alleviate the terrible suffering of millions of adults and children. This must be something we do in our time, not in the distant future.” – Ken Kleinberg