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

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Research Spotlight

This month 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. For further information or questions, please contact Kelly Turner at Keck Medicine of USC at (310) 910-7547 or Kelly.Turner@med.usc.edu.

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

Watch Videos About the Synthetic Kidney Project

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

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 head of Nephrology and Hypertension at the University of Southern California, 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. How could it be that no major kidney disease center existed in Los Angeles or on the West Coast?

Together they embarked on a project to create a nonprofit organization solely devoted to funding kidney disease research.

Thus, the University Kidney Research Organization (UKRO) was born. In 2012, UKRO partnered with USC to establish the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center (KRC) on USC’s Health Sciences Campus. The KRC aspires to become a premier center in the United States.

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 attorney and UKRO President.