LOS ANGELES, CA – December 10, 2010 – UKRO (University Kidney Research Organization), a Los Angeles–based nonprofit organization supporting medical research related to the prevention, treatment, and eradication of kidney disease, raised over $450,000 (with more pledges still coming in) at its annual benefit dinner on December 10, 2010, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Nearly 26 million people in the United States alone are believed to suffer from some type of kidney disease, and millions of others are at increased risk, according to the National Kidney Foundation. The Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch reported in 2009 that Medicare costs for kidney disease are almost $72,000 per patient annually.

Despite these statistics, kidney disease research still remains underfunded, so UKRO is continuing to establish project grants and research programs at various institutions throughout Southern California. Through its fundraising, the organization hopes to secure contributions sufficient to establish Los Angeles as a center for explorations to identify the causes, improve existing treatments, and—ultimately—find a cure for all forms of kidney disease.

“The statistics about kidney disease are terrible,” said Dr. Vito Campese, Head of the Division of Nephrology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “The industrialized world is witnessing an epidemic and the solution lies in scientific advances derived from enhanced research.”

At the December event, the organization honored three outstanding individuals for their contributions to and support for efforts to raise awareness about the importance of research in fighting kidney maladies.

“With 1 in 9 adults afflicted with some form of kidney disease, it is imperative that the nation make kidney research a major priority,” said UKRO president Kenneth Kleinberg. “We are delighted to have the support of this year’s honorees, Ms. Natalie Cole, Dr. Ben J. Lipps, and Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, all of whom have made a personal commitment toward making this happen, along with numerous extraordinary professional contributions.”

Natalie Cole, multi-platinum singer/songwriter and nine-time Grammy® Award-winner, was honored with the Spirit of Life Award, presented by Dr. Phil McGraw, New York Times best-selling author and daytime television talk show host. Ms. Cole received a kidney transplant in May 2009 after 10 months on dialysis. She currently serves as a national spokesperson for UKRO.

Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Management Board of Fresenius Medical Care Ben J. Lipps, Ph.D., received the Outstanding Achievement in Business and Industry Award. Under Dr. Lipps’s leadership, Fresenius has grown to be a worldwide industry leader in the production of medical supplies for renal dialysis.

Carmen A. Puliafito, M.D., M.B.A., Dean of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, received the Leadership Award for strengthening and fostering research at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Additionally, Anne Riquier-Brison, Ph.D., was honored with the John McKay Fellowship in Renal Research at the University of Southern California. Past UKRO honoree and kidney donor ABC7 Eyewitness News Anchor Phillip Palmer hosted the dinner as master of ceremonies, with Grammy Award-winning singer Patti Austin and the USC Trojan Marching Band supplying the evening’s entertainment.

Past honorees include: Shaul G. Massry, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine; Tom Mone, CEO, OneLegacy; Kent J. Thiry, Chairman/CEO, DaVita; Rafael Mendez, M.D., Professor of Urology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, cofounder of the Mendez National Institute of Transplantation, and cofounder of OneLegacy; Robert Mendez, M.D., Professor of Urology and Surgery at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, cofounder of the Mendez National Institute of Transplantation, and cofounder of OneLegacy; Benjamin H. Barbour, M.D., Clinical Professor of Medicine (Nephrology) at USC’s Keck School of Medicine; Vito M. Campese, M.D., Chief of the Division of Nephrology and the Hypertension Center at USC’s Keck School of Medicine; Richard Glassock, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles; and George Rathmann, Ph.D., pioneer in the field of biotechnology and cofounder of Amgen, Past Chairman/CEO and cofounder of ICOS3, and Chairman Emeritus, Nuvelo, Inc.