Committed to Workforce and Innovation to Ensure Nephrology’s Future

An update from ASN Executive Vice President Tod Ibrahim on engaging future members of the kidney care team and scientists and advancing kidney health and research.

Helping to ensure the future of the profession is one of the most important roles for any medical specialty society. ASN first started funding early career investigators in 1996. Since then, ASN’s funding for these researchers—as well as for medical students, residents, fellows, and other trainees—has increased to more than $4 million in 2021. Much of this funding comes from KidneyCure , ASN’s foundation.

This $4 million commitment is focused in four areas:

  1. Using travel support to increase interest in nephrology careers.
  2. Strengthening the nephrology workforce.
  3. Encouraging diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  4. Providing research grants.

ASN helps trainees attend the Advances in Research Conference (ARC), a Kidney Week Early Program. This year’s ARC will focus on “ Artificial Intelligence and Implementation Science. ” ASN also funds nephrology fellows and PhD postdoctoral fellows to attend ASN Kidney Week through the Karen L. Campbell, PhD, Trainee Support Program for Fellows . To help trainees learn more about kidney care and research, ASN also partners with the American Physician Scientists Association, American Physiological Society, and the Latin American Society of Nephrology and Hypertension.

Through programs at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine and the University of Chicago in Illinois, ASN Kidney TREKS (Tutored Research and Education for Kidney Scholars) provides medical students, graduate students pursuing a PhD, and postdocs a week-long research retreat and long-term mentorship program. ASN Kidney STARS targets medical students, residents, and graduate students with budding interest in nephrology. Kidney STARS brings these students in contact with active, engaged nephrologists and scientists as well as provides them complimentary registration to attend Kidney Week and complimentary membership in the society.

In addition to supporting a joint task force with the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) on reassessing the inclusion of race in diagnosing kidney diseases—which released its final report last week—ASN is participating in “Equity Matters: A Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Antiracism Initiative for Physicians and Medical Leadership.” A collaboration between the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the Council of Medical Specialty Societies (a coalition of 45 medical societies representing more than 800,000 US physicians). This program will result in a “capstone project” likely focusing on residents and fellows.

To further encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion, ASN launched a groundbreaking loan mitigation pilot program this year that will provide six nephrology fellows who are underrepresented in medicine with $50,000 over three years. In addition, ASN partners with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program (AMFDP) and provides travel support for members to attend National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Network of Minority Health Research Investigators Annual Workshop.

In recent years, we have witnessed incredible advances in kidney research. Every year, ASN commits to providing researchers the funding necessary to build independent programs and advance the field. In 2021, KidneyCure granted nearly $3 million to 47 kidney researchers, supporting 24 new projects and 23 continuing projects from 2020. KidneyCure funds the Transition to Independence Grants Program, Ben J. Lipps Research Fellowship Program, William and Sandra Bennett Clinical Scholars Program, and Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program. 

Since inception, KidneyCure has funded 99 Lipps Fellowships, 203 Transition to Independence Grants, eight Bennett Clinical Scholars, 17 Pre-Doctoral Fellows, and three ASN-AMFDP Scholars. Many of these grant recipients have become leaders in the kidney community, like ASN President Susan E. Quaggin, MD, FASN, who received a Carl W. Gottschalk Research Scholar Grant (one of the Transition to Independence Grants) in 1999.

Historically, the ASN Grants Review Committee has funded “the best science,” remaining neutral on the focus of grant submissions. ASN and KidneyCure have never prioritized funding in a specific area of nephrology or articulated funding goals. While serving the society and the foundation well for 25 years, this philosophy needs to be revisited. A balance must exist between funding individuals and leveraging resources to help accomplish our mission, including addressing systemic racism in nephrology, championing clinical trials, and improving health care systems.

ASN is working with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other stakeholders to accelerate the development of an artificial kidney through KidneyX. The Artificial Kidney Prize is a competition for innovative continuous kidney replacement therapies that provide transformational treatment options, such as artificial kidneys that can be worn, implanted, bioengineered, xenotransplanted, or realized through other approaches not yet conceived.

KidneyX received 38 applications to the first phase of the Artificial Kidney Prize, representing innovations being developed from around the world, including Canada, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States. Earlier this month, at the KidneyX Virtual Summit , the first six winners of the Artificial Kidney Prize were announced, representing mechanical engineering, xenotransplantation, and component miniaturization innovations needed to advance portable, wearable, or implantable artificial kidneys.

The Artificial Kidney Prize competition builds on years of innovation and forward-looking support of clinical trials fostered by the Kidney Health Initiative (KHI), a partnership among ASN, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and more than 100 member organizations. KHI’s Technology Roadmap and related patient-centered and technology projects provide the necessary support for KidneyX and other stakeholders to catalyze innovation for people with kidney diseases.

Coalescing these efforts under “Research, Discovery and Innovation” (RDI), ASN promotes a greater level of leadership for innovators by increasing the potential for patient direction to build on advances, stimulating the market for kidney health innovation and drawing greater participation and capital to sustain the pathway of new drugs, devices, biologics, and other therapies. By encouraging a collaborative community, ASN’s RDI team will also foster the cross-disciplinary and cross-sector solutions necessary for success.

To build the workforce and promote innovation during the next 25 years, ASN and the broader ASN Alliance for Kidney Health must focus on twin goals. First, we must engage future members of the kidney care team and scientists by increasing interest in kidney medicine, broadening nephrology’s outreach and appeal, and providing a professional home that promotes and accelerates growth, opportunities, and advancement throughout all stages of a person’s career. Second, to advance kidney health and research, we must build research readiness, inclusiveness, and translation in kidney medicine, which requires championing clinical trials as well as developing innovative partnerships, creatively pursuing scientific opportunities, and increasing public and private funding.

If you’re interested in participating in these efforts to help ensure the future of the profession, please contact me at


Tod Ibrahim
Executive Vice President