American Kidney Fund Announces Two Clinical Scientist Awards

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The American Kidney Fund recently awarded research funding from its Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Program to two promising emerging clinical researchers in nephrology: Anika Lucas, MD, a nephrology fellow at Duke University, and Maria Clarissa Tio, MD, a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Massachusetts General Hospital’s Joint Nephrology Program. Kidney News Editorial Board member Edgar Lerma, MD, FASN, interviewed them about the award and their interest in nephrology.

Maria Clarissa Tio, MDTell us about yourself.

I am originally from the Philippines, and I majored in biology at the University of the Philippines Manila. Thereafter, I moved to

The American Kidney Fund recently awarded research funding from its Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Program to two promising emerging clinical researchers in nephrology: Anika Lucas, MD, a nephrology fellow at Duke University, and Maria Clarissa Tio, MD, a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Massachusetts General Hospital’s Joint Nephrology Program. Kidney News Editorial Board member Edgar Lerma, MD, FASN, interviewed them about the award and their interest in nephrology.

Maria Clarissa Tio, MD

Tell us about yourself.

I am originally from the Philippines, and I majored in biology at the University of the Philippines Manila. Thereafter, I moved to Singapore to take up medicine at the Duke—National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School. Because it is a joint program with Duke University, I had an opportunity to go to Duke during my third and fourth years to do research in the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute and to complete several clinical rotations and a sub-internship at the Duke University Medical Center. After 5 years of medical education, which included some back-and-forth travel between Singapore and Durham, I moved to Dallas, Texas, for my residency training at the University of Texas Southwestern. The time I spent in residency represented some of the most formative years of my education and training. After that, I moved here to Boston to train in nephrology, in the combined Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham nephrology fellowship program.

How did you get into nephrology?

As a medical student I did a renal consults rotation at Duke. Going in, I felt that the field was very intimidating, and really my goal was just to learn more about this black box that is renal physiology. But I was fortunate enough to have worked with several amazing attendings then, and that month transformed an intimidating field into a very exciting one for me. Our residency training really exposed us to a wide range of kidney patients in Dallas, from the transplantation success stories to patients who have lifelong tunneled catheters and receive hemodialysis only on an “emergency” basis. It was really challenging to care for some of them as their primary care provider, but I also knew that we (as residents and soon-to-be fellows in nephrology) were in a unique position to give them the best care possible, and to find ways to improve their care through research. At UT Southwestern, I was also surrounded by inspirational and aspirational nephrologists who are giants in their field but are also excellent physicians in both nephrology and internal medicine. All those exposures inspired me to get into the field.

What made you decide to apply for the award?

AKF’s mission to “fight kidney disease and help people live healthier lives” resonates with my values and career goals. I support the work the AKF does, which includes sponsoring important advocacies like community screening for kidney disease, patient education, financial support for kidney patients, and lobbying for kidney patients in Washington, DC, to name a few. Additionally, as a J-1 visa holder I can apply for only a limited number of fellowship grants. Thankfully, the AKF has an established history of supporting young clinician-scientists regardless of their citizenship status.

What does the “American Kidney Fund Clinical Scientist” designation mean to you?

To me, an AKF clinical scientist is someone who is committed to excellent patient care, rigorous scientific research, and effective public advocacy that can improve the lives of and our care delivery to patients with kidney disease. It’s an honor to be part of the AKF family.

What is your research about?

My research is about crystalline nephropathies and how they associate with more common forms of chronic kidney disease. I will be using the Safety of Urate Elevation in Parkinson’s Disease (SURE-PD) trial and Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) for my studies. In the SURE-PD trial, patients with early Parkinson’s disease had their serum uric acid pharmacologically elevated to test whether this can delay progression of Parkinson’s disease. It presents a unique opportunity to study whether hyperuricemia, even in persons with normal kidney function, is associated with biomarkers of kidney injury and inflammation. In CRIC, I plan to study how urinary oxalate excretion in persons with chronic kidney disease is associated with biomarkers of kidney injury and assess whether these biomarkers modify the association of urinary oxalate excretion with renal outcomes.

What is your advice to our younger colleagues who may be interested in following in your footsteps?

Hard work is very important, of course. Seize opportunities that come your way. Find a mentor and a division that has your back. Collaboration is key—this is not a solo journey!

Anika Lucas, MD

Tell us about yourself.

I am a research fellow in the division of nephrology at Duke University focused on women’s health and health disparities. I grew up in New York City and witnessed the burden of chronic diseases in my minority neighborhood, with many barriers to care. This experience shaped my decision to pursue a career in medicine. Before attending medical school, I attended Harvard Divinity School, where I studied how different religious traditions grapple with the concept of human suffering. I graduated from Temple University School of Medicine and completed residency at the University of Connecticut, where I continued to observe health disparities. During my first year of nephrology fellowship I served as an intern on ASN’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, working toward promoting diversity and inclusion in the workforce and field of nephrology

How did you get into nephrology?

I decided to become a nephrologist in my second year of residency. Although I enjoyed learning renal physiology in medical school and completed a nephrology elective as a fourth-year medical student, I originally decided to become a primary care physician because of my interest in eliminating health disparities and establishing longitudinal relationships with patients. I even joined the primary care track in my residency program. I met Scherly Leon, MD, a nephrologist in New York City and a member of ASN’s Media and Communications Committee, who encouraged me to consider a career in nephrology. She also invited me to apply to the Kidney STARS Program. Through the generous support of ASN I was able to attend ASN Kidney Week 2016 in Chicago. The excitement at Kidney Week was palpable. I reunited with faculty from medical school and attended a talk by Deidre Crews, MD, FASN, on the impact of dietary factors on decline in kidney function among urban African Americans. I soon realized that as a nephrologist I could still maintain longitudinal relationships with my patients and work toward combating health disparities. I received further mentorship from Ruchir Trivedi, MD, a nephrologist at the University of Connecticut. Participating in the Kidney STARs program transformed the trajectory of my medical career.

What made you decide to apply for the award?

I first learned about the American Kidney Fund Clinical Scientist in Nephrology program from my assistant program director, Matthew Sparks, MD. I was further encouraged by my mentor, Christina Wyatt, MD, to apply for the award.

What does the “American Kidney Fund Clinical Scientist” designation mean to you?

The American Kidney Fund’s vision is a “world without kidney disease.” Through patient education and financial support, support of clinical research, and advocacy, the AKF has diligently worked toward making that vision a reality. Many leaders in our field were former recipients of this award. It is clear that participation in the AKF’s Clinical Scientist in Nephrology program helped to launch their early careers. I am humbled to be one of the recipients of this prestigious award. This award will provide me with the opportunity to perform clinical research and receive the support of many successful researchers in our field.

What is your research about?

My research project aims to determine whether kidney hyperfiltration and/or failure to hyperfilter in pregnancy predicts, and possibly even contributes to, adverse pregnancy and kidney outcomes. I am currently evaluating the relationship between maternal second-trimester estimated GFR and likelihood of adverse pregnancy outcomes in women with a history of lupus. I will also evaluate the impact of race on both adverse pregnancy and kidney outcomes. The goal of this work is to facilitate early identification of women at risk for the development and progression of kidney disease.

What would be your advice to our younger colleagues who may be interested in following in your footsteps?

I would advise fellows to establish clear professional and personal goals. Fellows who desire to pursue a career in research should identify areas of interest as early as possible. Most importantly, everyone should find mentors. Strong mentorship is integral to success. Although choosing mentors may seem daunting at the start of a fellowship, I have found that many nephrologists are very approachable. Seek out individuals with whom you share common interests and individuals you would like to emulate.

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