U.Va. Receives NIH Grant to Train the Next Generation of Investigators in Kidney Disease Research

December 14, 2006
Dec. 14, 2006 -- Kidney disease is a rapidly growing health problem in the United States, with more than 20 million people suffering from some chronic form of the disease. Additionally, approximately 400,000 patients in the U.S. undergo regular kidney dialysis or have undergone kidney transplantation.

While the number of people with kidney disease continues to increase, the number of clinicians and researchers being trained in the field isn't keeping up with demand, according to University of Virginia School of Medicine nephrologist Dr. Mark Okusa.

Dr. Okusa was recently awarded a 5-year, $583,000 NIH training grant on behalf of the Division of Nephrology to train the next generation of investigators in kidney disease research. "A major focus area in the training of new researchers and academic physicians is the ability to translate research from the lab to the bedside," Dr. Okusa says. "We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of 26 faculty mentors to train academic nephrologists and investigators to address the growing problem of kidney disease."

U.Va. plans to use the grant to train four researchers yearly in areas such as immunology, functional genomics, epidemiology, biostatistics and clinical investigations as they relate to kidney disease. Participating departments and centers include Medicine, Pediatrics, Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, the Cardiovascular Research Center, Center for Cell Signaling, the Carter Immunology Center and the Specialized Center for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

"Kidney disease hasn't received the attention that many other life-threatening conditions have over the years because our patients live quite a long time with this chronic condition and may not know it. However during this period of "silent disease" considerable damage is occurring throughout the body.  The quality of life for these people after the damage is done and especially for those on dialysis, is diminished," says Dr. Okusa. "We hope these new researchers can identify why kidneys fail and how to cure or reverse kidney diseases through the development of new treatment and therapies to improve the quality of life of millions of people who suffer from kidney disease."

Nephrology is one of many specialty areas that is experiencing a shortage of physicians. Okusa says that while the number of physicians going into nephrology is barely keeping up with demand, there is no comparison to the number of physicians and scientists going into nephrology research, which is miniscule by comparison.

 "If we are to meet the rapidly growing need for academic physicians and investigators, programs such as this one are vital," says R. Edward Howell, Vice President and CEO of the U.Va. Medical Center. "Receiving one of these highly competitive grants is a testament to the integrated, multi-disciplinary training program put together by Dr. Okusa and his colleagues."