UKRO is very pleased to announce that, in addition to funding our ongoing commitment to the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center, we have awarded two $50,000 innovative pilot grants for cutting-edge, collaborative research projects at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. And with a very generous $50,000 grant from our board member, Yuichi Iwaki, M.D., Ph.D. we have funded an exciting third project, which has attracted matching funds from OneLegacy. All of these highly creative studies have the potential to make a real difference in patients’ lives. The wealth of important information stemming from these projects will likely pave the way for future NIH grants.

Jang H. Youn, Ph.D., and his collaborators Alicia McDonough, Ph.D., of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and geochemist John Higgins, Ph.D., of Princeton, have pioneered a new approach to studying potassium balance in living subjects, which has never been possible before. Blood potassium is very tightly regulated by the kidneys and skeletal muscle and is crucial to normal cardiac function as well as kidney disease progression. If blood potassium is too high or too low, it can lead to life-threatening cardiac arrythmias. Potassium balance presents a real challenge for patients with kidney disease. In the past, ex vivo experiments relied on radioactive isotopes to estimate potassium fluxes within the body. This new method based on naturally occurring stable potassium isotopes in the blood could be safely used in human studies, even those involving children. This cutting-edge project will answer important physiological questions and may lead to novel, personalized approaches to care.

Anne Riquier-Brison, Ph.D., a former UKRO John McKay Fellowship award winner and member of Janos Peti-Peterdi’s lab, will study kidney-brain crosstalk and the impact on dementia and cognitive impairment in chronic kidney disease patients. Her research takes full advantage of USC’s prowess as a major center for Alzheimer’s research. Collaborating with the head of USC’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Dr. Riquier-Brison will be collecting urine and plasma samples from the same people, something which has never been done before. She will be looking for levels of a kidney protein that may play a key role in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Yan Zhong, M.D., Ph.D., has devised a fresh approach to understanding, managing, and potentially preventing diabetic kidney disease. She hypothesizes that lack of oxygen may account for the progression of kidney disease in diabetes patients. To prove this theory, she will use a new technique called BOLD MRI to reveal oxygen levels in the blood within the kidney. Bold MRI is already in use at USC in the field of neurology and is considered very safe. Collaborating with Swiss scientists, Dr. Zhong will be investigating whether medications or other treatments affect oxygen levels. Her discoveries could reveal new avenues to slow down disease progression.