The history and mission of the Nephrology Research and Training Center (NRTC) established in 1976, was funded as a University-wide Pilot Developmental Center in October 2006 and was recognized as a full University-wide Interdisciplinary Research Center effective October 2008. In 1998, the NRTC was strengthened by the provision of an endowment, the proceeds of which were targeted to support its training and research activities. Recognizing the importance of enhancing the research portfolio of the NRTC, Dr. Anupam Agarwal was recruited as the Director of the Center in November 2003. In November, 2009, Dr. Paul Sanders was appointed to the position of Director, with Dr. Agarwal taking a role as the Associate Director.
Since 2006, the renewed mission of the NRTC has been to provide a comprehensive interdisciplinary infrastructure and enviroment to support the kidney-related research continium from molecular pathways to model systems to man. The particular emphasis of this Center will be to focus on projects/experimental strategies that integrate basic concepts and clinical insights into translational research. Through educational outreach programs, relevant data will be shared with the community so as to improve health and well-being of those affected by kidney disease and hypertension and increase the number of organs available for renal transplants through public awareness.
The Center currently has 112 faculty members including members from 7 different Schools at UAB (Medicine, Public Health, Health-Related Professions, Dentistry, Optometry, Business and Engineering) as well as membership from Southern Research Institute. There is also participation in other campus centers including: the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (UAB-CCTS), Comprehensive Diabetes Center (CDC), Center for Free Radical Biology (CFRB), Comprehensive Center for Health Aging, Diabetes Research Center (DRC), Comprehensive Transplant Institute and the Heflin Center for Human Genetics.
The Nephrology Research and Training Center takes a multidisciplinary, interdepartmental approach to the study of kidney disease and physiology. The Center's orientation is primarily research, but it also interacts with the Division of Nephrology for clinical aspects of care. The Center also works closely with the Department of Surgery's Renal Transplant Program.
There are a number of research interests of the Center including studies of the biophysics, molecular biology, and regulatory control of renal epithelial cell ion transporters and channels. A major focus of the center involves basic research in polycystic kidney disease. Recent work has focused on the role of the cilium in the pathogenesis of polycystic kidney disease. The Center is also known for work characterizing the epithelial sodium channel and mutations that occur in this channel that cause Liddle’s Syndrome. A longstanding research interest has been in the area of the tubuloglomerular feedback mechanism that plays an essential role in renal hemodynamics and GFR. Other areas of interest include studies to elucidate the pathophysiology of acute renal failure and gene therapy for kidney diseases.
The NRTC is also known for both basic science and clinical studies on various aspects of hypertension, including salt sensitive hypertension in African Americans. There is intense interest in defining the various intracellular messenger/enzyme systems that are activated in response to dietary salt intake including TGF-b, MAP kinases, and the nitric oxide pathway that may mediate some of the deleterious effects of hypertension. There is also exciting work that is ongoing to define the mechanisms for and prevention of renal transplant rejection, IgA nephropathy, and renal failure due to multiple myeloma.
The NRTC provides a rich environment for both graduate and postgraduate training. In conjunction with the basic science departments at UAB, the Center has been highly successful in recruiting, training, and guiding students to the completion of the PhD degree. The Center attracts first-rate postdoctoral fellows from the US, Europe, and Asia and has the reputation of providing the training and publications needed to allow these individuals to successfully compete for faculty positions. The NRTC also provides a seamless mechanism whereby clinical fellows from the Division of Nephrology can gain research experience and develop the skills to successfully compete as academic nephrologists.
The research laboratories within the Center offer modern state-of-the-art facilities, equipment, and expertise to perform biological research. Molecular biology tools, electrophysiology including patch clamp techniques, and fluorescence imaging microscopy are available within the Center. Recently, members of the Center, in conjunction with the UAB Imaging Center, have used cutting edge multi-photon microscopy. This technique has provided fascinating new insights and is now a major new tool in renal research. Thus the NRTC is at the forefront of kidney research providing new scientific and clinically relevant information that should help in the understanding, prevention, and treatment of renal disease.