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The footprint of kidney disease research at UAB just expanded through two awards from the NIH

written by Andy Currie, Maria White, and Carolyn Walsh

anupam agarwal orlando gutierrez amanda hyer andersonPictured above, L to R: Drs. Anupam Agarwal, Orlando Gutierrez, and Amanda Hyer AndersonThe UAB-UCSD O'Brien Center for Acute Kidney Injury Research has joined the newly formed O’Brien Kidney Consortium as one of its seven National Resource Centers. The $4.4 million U54 grant recognizes the Center’s 15-year legacy of exceptional research in acute kidney injury, or AKI, a health issue that affects more than 13 million people in the U.S.

“Our kidneys are the filters that remove waste and excess fluid from our bodies. When acute kidney injury occurs, it’s an abrupt interruption of that vital process. Understanding the underlying causes for AKI and how to treat it is essential for health,” says Anupam Agarwal, M.D., professor and dean of the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, who will serve as principal investigator on the grant.

Building on excellence

A unique partnership between the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the University of California San Diego (USCD), the UAB-UCSD O'Brien Center built an impressive roster of over 300 investigators representing 68 institutions across 35 states. Under Agarwal’s leadership, along with co-directors Paul Sanders, M.D., and Ravindra Mehta, M.D., the Center offered essential services to researchers dedicated to AKI-related investigations, as well as providing more than $2.1 million in pilot grants since 2007.

The Center was previously funded by a P30 grant mechanism through the George M. O'Brien Kidney Centers of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), a program that played a vital role in facilitating basic and clinical research in kidney disease, bridging the gap between laboratory discoveries and clinical application since 1987.

Optimizing leadership and resources

In its new capacity as a National Resource Center in the Consortium, the UAB-UCSD O’Brien Center will feature two Biomedical Research Cores, a Clinical Core, a Pre-Clinical Core, and a Resource Development Core, integrating existing intellectual and technological resources at both universities to provide a comprehensive set of services and resources for innovative research in AKI-related studies.

As it joins the O’Brien Kidney Consortium, the UAB-UCSD O’Brien Center is poised to share its intellectual resources, infrastructure, and expertise with the broader scientific community, with a particular emphasis on engaging early-stage investigators. The remaining six U54 National Resource Centers were awarded to the University of Pittsburgh, Indiana University, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, and Northwestern University.

UAB-UCSD O'Brien Center for Acute Kidney Injury Research Leaders

Anupam Agarwal, M.D., UAB professor of medicine and dean, Heersink School of Medicine
principal investigator and director of the UAB-UCSD O'Brien Center
Paul Sanders, M.D., UAB professor of medicine
co-associate director of the Center, co-director of the Pre-Clinical Core
Joachim Ix, M.D., MAS, chief of the UCSD Division of Nephrology-Hypertension
co-associate director of the Center
Javier Neyra, M.D., UAB associate professor of medicine
co-director of the Clinical and Resource Development Cores
Ravindra Mehta, M.D., UCSD professor of clinical medicine
co-director of the Clinical and Resource Development Cores
Volker Vallon, M.D., UCSD professor of medicine and pharmacology
co-director of the Pre-Clinical Core

Further kidney research funding for UAB investigators

While the latest funding announcement marked a change in NIDDK’s vision and implementation of the O’Brien National Resource Centers, it also indicated a shift in how the institute will facilitate the work of the seven centers through a single National Coordinating Center.

In addition to the U54, UAB investigators also received a $5.86 million U24 award, to “harmonize” the efforts of the seven NRCs in the O’Brien Kidney Consortium. Co-led by Orlando Gutierrez, M.D., MMSc, professor of medicine and director of the UAB Division of Nephrology, and Amanda Anderson, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health.

"We are excited about the work ahead, especially with UAB’s new role leading the National Coordinating Center,” notes Paul Erwin, M.D., Dr.PH., dean of the School of Public Health. “With our recent addition of Dr. Anderson who will lead the Coordinating Center with Dr. Gutierrez, we are well-positioned to make substantive contributions to the national effort to address kidney diseases.”

Anderson agrees. “Through the generation of a new portal and website to connect investigators with all of the available expertise, we will make these resources widely available to kidney disease researchers nationally. Dr. Gutierrez and I feel fortunate to be leading a large team of investigators at UAB who will assist in coordinating this large consortium and ensure its success.” Patient representatives will play an integral role in the Consortium to ensure their perspectives are built into the resource network. 

U24 National Coordinating Center Leaders

Jeff Szychowski, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of Biostatistics
Co-lead - Data Core
Gary Cutter, Ph.D., professor emeritus of public health
Co-lead - Data Core and Opportunity Pool
Lonnie Hannon, Ph.D., associate professor of public health
Co-lead - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Core and Patient Core
Lisa Curtis, Ph.D, professor of medicine
Co-lead - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Core
Jennifer Pollock, Ph.D., professor of medicine
Co-lead - Training Core
Kelly Hyndman, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine
Co-lead - Training Core
Paul Sanders, M.D., professor of medicine
Co-lead - Opportunity Pool
Javier Neyra, M.D., associate professor of medicine
Co-lead - Patient Core

The award of both a National Resource Center and a National Coordinating Center for this prestigious consortium provides an exceptional opportunity for UAB to serve as the central hub for focusing these nationwide resources and will vastly expand connections with kidney researchers across the country.