William Henry Fissell, MD - 2009 Carl W. Gottschalk Research Scholar Grant Recipient

By ASN Staff

William Henry Fissell, MD

2009 Carl W. Gottschalk Research Scholar Grant Recipient

Inspired by Kidney Patients, a Polymath Takes Kidney Care Into the Future

“ASN threw me a lifeline.”

While working as an EMT during a leave of absence from college, William Henry Fissell, MD often helped care for dialysis patients. “I fell in love with them because they were striving to live despite all the pain and fear of their everyday lives.” The grace with which these patients faced their challenges inspired Dr. Fissell to return to MIT, earn bachelor’s degrees in physics and electrical engineering, and then a medical degree from Case Western Reserve University.

During his residency, Dr. Fissell felt many physicians preferred to let others deal with the calculations and complications involved in caring for kidney patients. “As an engineer and physicist, I didn’t see the calculations as a steep hill to climb,” Dr. Fissell said.

While studying for his medical boards, he had an insight that set him on his eventual research path. “I was looking at electron micrographs of the glomerular capillary wall, when I noticed that the podocytes that comprise the filtration barrier have a remarkable structural resemblance to the submicron structures I’d been making for an X-ray astrophysics experiment at MIT. The light bulb went on: maybe we could use this silicon nanotechnology to make a better membrane and alter the way that we provide dialysis. And that was the genesis of my career in nephrology.”

Unfortunately an early grant ran out and Dr. Fissell encountered a “severe funding drought.” This is a uniquely vulnerable point in the careers of many physician-scientists especially those who are exploring new research territory that may seem higher-risk to funding agencies.

“I developed this peculiar idea that the basement membrane and the glomerular podocyte might interact to create a protein-free ultrafiltrate of plasma. ASN threw me a lifeline that allowed me to continue this line of research when there wasn’t federal funding available. Receiving an ASN Career Development Grant was a make or break thing for my career. If it weren’t for ASN and this grant, I probably wouldn’t have an academic job now. The support put me on a path to become the co-PI of a large NIH-U01 research project working to provide alternatives to dialysis to patients with renal failure,” Dr. Fissell said.

Currently an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Fissell continues that work as the medical lead of the Kidney Project, a multicenter, interdisciplinary effort to develop an implantable artificial kidney, involving doctors, scientists, and engineers from a dozen universities and companies around the U.S. The ASN Foundation for Kidney Research is honored to have helped Dr. Fissell realize his vision of improving the lives of the patients who inspired him.

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William Henry Fissell, MD

2009 Carl W. Gottschalk Research Scholar Grant Recipient

Inspired by Kidney Patients, a Polymath Takes Kidney Care Into the Future

“ASN threw me a lifeline.”

While working as an EMT during a leave of absence from college, William Henry Fissell, MD often helped care for dialysis patients. “I fell in love with them because they were striving to live despite all the pain and fear of their everyday lives.” The grace with which these patients faced their challenges inspired Dr. Fissell to return to MIT, earn bachelor’s degrees in physics and electrical engineering, and then a medical degree from Case Western Reserve University.

During his residency, Dr. Fissell felt many physicians preferred to let others deal with the calculations and complications involved in caring for kidney patients. “As an engineer and physicist, I didn’t see the calculations as a steep hill to climb,” Dr. Fissell said.

While studying for his medical boards, he had an insight that set him on his eventual research path. “I was looking at electron micrographs of the glomerular capillary wall, when I noticed that the podocytes that comprise the filtration barrier have a remarkable structural resemblance to the submicron structures I’d been making for an X-ray astrophysics experiment at MIT. The light bulb went on: maybe we could use this silicon nanotechnology to make a better membrane and alter the way that we provide dialysis. And that was the genesis of my career in nephrology.”

Unfortunately an early grant ran out and Dr. Fissell encountered a “severe funding drought.” This is a uniquely vulnerable point in the careers of many physician-scientists especially those who are exploring new research territory that may seem higher-risk to funding agencies.

“I developed this peculiar idea that the basement membrane and the glomerular podocyte might interact to create a protein-free ultrafiltrate of plasma. ASN threw me a lifeline that allowed me to continue this line of research when there wasn’t federal funding available. Receiving an ASN Career Development Grant was a make or break thing for my career. If it weren’t for ASN and this grant, I probably wouldn’t have an academic job now. The support put me on a path to become the co-PI of a large NIH-U01 research project working to provide alternatives to dialysis to patients with renal failure,” Dr. Fissell said.

Currently an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Fissell continues that work as the medical lead of the Kidney Project, a multicenter, interdisciplinary effort to develop an implantable artificial kidney, involving doctors, scientists, and engineers from a dozen universities and companies around the U.S. The ASN Foundation for Kidney Research is honored to have helped Dr. Fissell realize his vision of improving the lives of the patients who inspired him.

Date:
Friday, January 11, 2019