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

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Happy World Kidney Day 2021

To celebrate World Kidney Day, we’re highlighting some of the vital research taking place at the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center to improve patients’ lives and alleviate the suffering of millions of adults and children.

Creating a Synthetic Kidney and Kidney Organoids with Stem Cell Technology

Stem cell kidney

Andrew McMahon, Ph.D., W.M. Keck Provost and University Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and Biological Sciences; Chair, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine; Director, Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC and Zhongwei Li, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Medicine, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and a principal investigator at the KRC, are collaborating with labs across USC to build a transplantable, synthetic kidney to replace normal kidney function in patients. Dr. Li is also creating kidney organoids or “mini kidneys” to model kidney diseases and test new therapies. Scroll down to read more and watch videos about the synthetic kidney project.

Uncovering Much-Needed New Treatments for PKD

PKD cyst

KRC researchers are hard at work tackling the most common inherited kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease or PKD. They are analyzing protein expression in PKD tissue (shown above) to find new drug targets, and they are looking for ways to repurpose drugs for novel uses to fight PKD.

Creating Nanoparticles to Combat Kidney Diseases

Eun Ji Chung, Ph.D., Dr. Karl Jacob Jr. and Karl Jacob III Early Career Chair and Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Medicine, and Surgery at USC, (pictured above) is working with Dr. Ken Hallows, Director, KRC; Professor of Medicine; Chief, Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, on an exciting collaboration, using tiny nanoparticles called “micelles”, to target diseased kidney cells. Made with an ingenious kidney-targeting peptide, these biocompatible and biodegradable micelles can pass into the kidney and remain there, with the potential to deliver life-saving drugs where they are needed most.

USC’s Synthetic Kidney Project

Stem cell and kidney experts from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center, and other labs across USC have teamed up 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 from a patient’s own skin cells, eliminating the need for immunosuppressant drugs. 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. UKRO is proud to support this groundbreaking research through its contributions to the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center.

Stem cell experts Zhongwei Li, Ph.D. and Andrew McMahon, Ph.D.

For further information or questions, please contact Kelly Turner at Keck Medicine of USC at (310) 910-7547 or

Watch a video on the synthetic kidney project with ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor Phillip Palmer.

Watch Dr. McMahon and Dr. Li discuss the synthetic kidney in a webinar and Q&A hosted by Keck Medicine of USC and UKRO.

The Future of Kidney Disease – The Synthetic Kidney from Keck School of Medicine of USC on Vimeo.

UKRO mourns the loss of our treasured friend and long-time board member Suzanne Crowell, who passed away on December 31, 2020. Suzy knew firsthand the devastation of kidney disease and with her insight, leadership, and generosity, she helped us further our mission to fund cutting-edge medical research to find new treatments and cures for all types of kidney disease. As a kidney transplant recipient, she was truly grateful for the gift of life, and her resilience and joie de vivre inspired us all.

Throughout her life, she was committed to helping others, whether as a community leader and philanthropist, as mayor of San Marino, California, or as a caring and supportive friend. Suzanne led her family’s effort to establish the new Crowell Public Library in San Marino which opened in 2008, replacing the city’s aging community library. She served on numerous boards, including Huntington Hospital and Harvest Evangelism. She received many accolades and was named California Senate Woman of the Year in 1991.

Suzanne was a wonderful woman and will be deeply missed. We greatly appreciate that her family has chosen to direct gifts in her honor to UKRO. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, and all those whose lives she touched.