The UAB Division of Nephrology has been named a George M. O’Brien Kidney Research Center by the National Institutes of Health for its research and expertise in treating acute kidney disease. Anupam Agarwal, M.D., director, UAB Division of Nephrology, is principal investigator of the O’Brien Center award, one of just eight such centers funded in the United States.

Agarwal said there also are several overarching goals of the center.

“We hope to attract new scientific expertise into the study of the basic mechanisms of kidney disease and disorders, encourage multidisciplinary research focused in the causes of these diseases, explore new basic science areas with translational potential and generate pilot and feasibility studies that will lead to new and innovative approaches to the study of kidney disease.”

Acute kidney injury, or acute kidney failure, is a rapid loss of renal function due to damage to the kidneys. It develops in 5 percent to 7 percent of medical-surgical patients, complicates the recovery of 15 percent to 25 percent of intensive-care patients, and it can double the length of a patient’s hospital stay.

Despite major advances in renal-replacement therapy, the mortality of patients with acute kidney injury has not significantly decreased in the past 30 to 40 years.

Forward thinking
UAB will partner with researchers at the University of California at San Diego for the center. Agarwal said the partnership will facilitate interactions that will result in productive collaborations among center investigators and other researchers.

“This combined thematic approach will facilitate acute kidney injury research at UAB and UCSD and allow for translational studies to be accomplished. It also will help enhance collaboration among basic and clinical researchers in the field of kidney disease.”

The center's activities will incorporate four thematic areas of research: acute kidney injury in the ICU setting, renal vascular dysfunction and hemodynamic alterations, biomarker discovery and genetic susceptibility. There will be three biomedical research cores and a biostatistics/bioinformatics resource making up the center:

Core A will be directed by Ravindra Mehta, M.D., professor of nephrology at UCSD, and charged with developing resources to support and facilitate clinical and translational research activities for the center; Core B will be directed by Paul Sanders, M.D., professor of nephrology at UAB, and will provide resources for animal physiology and imaging and for research studies; Core C will be directed by Stephen Barnes, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at UAB, and will provide access to technologies and relevant education through recurring workshops, on-site seminars and consultations, or Web-cast tutorials, as well as hands-on support for technology; and the biostatistics/bioinformatics resource will be directed by Gary Cutter, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics in the UAB School of Public Health. It will provide statistical and bioinformatics support to the research projects, pilot projects and cores of the center. It also will assist in planning and experiment design, data management and analysis of research projects.

The O’Brien Center also will include a pilot research grant program to emphasize innovation, translation and career development of highly promising junior investigators.

“The work and potential collaborations resulting from this core center offer an unparalleled opportunity to expand the knowledge base in the development, treatment and outcomes of acute kidney injury,” Agarwal said. “This center will provide the engine necessary to drive innovation, training, productivity and new discoveries in acute kidney injury.”