Grant: Dimitrios G. Oreopoulos Research Fellowship Award (2019)
Project Title: Modeling Kidney Fibrosis and Testing Therapeutic Compounds in Human Kidney Organoids
How would you sum up your research in one sentence?
I use human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and differentiate them into kidney organoids (kidney-like tissue) to be able to study kidney development and kidney diseases in vitro.
Provide a brief overview of the research you will conduct with help from the grant.
We have generated a new biosensor iPSCs that enables us to be able to tell in real-time if the cells are injured and about to undergo cell death. Together with the recently developed human kidney organoid protocol we are using it to deepen our understanding of acute kidney injury, fibrosis and as a way to study properties of small molecule compounds.
What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?
The biosensor organoids will enable us to screen nephrotoxins and determine the optimum window for therapeutic compound treatment to reduce injury and/or fibrotic events. We hope to utilize kidney organoids as a model to study and understand the processes that lead to fibrotic scar tissue development that occur in the kidney upon injury. We anticipate that our research will reveal that injury in the organoids reflects similar processes that are presents in human kidneys post injury. This together with the biosensor organoids will provide a new human-based model to study kidney injury, fibrosis and a screening tool for testing new compounds that will pave the way for new and better treatments.
What are your short and long-term career goals?
I plan to continue working in the kidney field, using organoids as a means to study disease pathways and discover potential new therapeutic treatments. I would like to work towards becoming an independent researcher investigating molecular pathways that control kidney disease etiology, discover ways to improve regeneration, and deepen our understanding of kidney organoids as an in vitro human-based model. Within ten years, my goal is to be an established scientist with a vibrant lab and hope that I have contributed in a meaningful way towards understanding and treating kidney diseases.
What inspired you to focus your research in this area?
Kidney is a very complex organ, with numerous cell types and we are continuously learning about its function. When I started my graduate studies there were very few cell culture models to study kidney disease pathways, function or development. The challenge of advancing the field and knowledge in development of an in vitro model is what inspired and motivated me.
What are the major challenges to beginning a career in nephrology research today?
I think that the major challenges in nephrology research are funding availability particularly for young researchers, and shortage of disease models (animal or in vitro) that reliably recapitulate human kidney disease pathways.
In one sentence, please describe the importance of having grant funding available through the ASN Foundation.
Having the availability of ASN Foundation funding is critical in helping young researchers focus their time on a project to reach their academic career goals.
What advice would you give to others to encourage them to apply for this grant funding?
Applying for this Fellowship will not only be a valuable learning experience, but more importantly it is an opportunity to be selected for a prestigious award that will help to advance your academic career.