Dr. Yan Zhang is one of the four outstanding researchers selected for our 2017 PKD Foundation Fellowship Awards. She earned her B.S. in pharmacy at Sichuan University, a M.S. in pharmacology at Peking Union Medical College and Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology at University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is pursuing post-doctoral training under the mentorship of Darren Wallace, Ph.D., at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
PKD Foundation (PKDF): Why did you want to become a scientist/researcher?
Yan Zhang (YZ): First, because scientific progression is crucial for improving our health and working as a scientist makes my life meaningful. It would be very rewarding if our study can promote the understanding of PKD and the development of an effective treatment for PKD patients. Second, I am excited to explore something unknown. I feel that being a scientist is the ideal job for me.
PKDF: When did you first learn about PKD?
YZ: I first learned about PKD from the newspaper about 10 years ago. I was shocked by the enlargement of PKD kidneys and the limited treatment options for the patients. In the spring of 2017, I graduated with my Ph.D. and obtained a Postdoctoral position in the Kidney Institute at the University of Kansas Medical Center. My Ph.D. work focused on tissue damage-induced inflammation. Since PKD kidneys express markers for inflammation, I wanted to investigate inflammatory pathways involved in PKD progression. I was delighted to join the laboratory of Dr. Darren Wallace since his work on PKD is focused on multiple aspects of the disease and is interested in translating basic research into patient care.
PKDF: What interested you in nephrology?
YZ: I am quite interested in discovering the pathological mechanisms of renal diseases, including PKD, and finding potential effective therapies.
PKDF: What inspired you to pursue a career in PKD research?
YZ: I am interested in tissue injury and inflammation, in particular, damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). I think that cyst growth causes tissue damage leading to the release of DAMPs and inflammation. I am excited to investigate the cellular pathways involved in cyst growth, inflammation and fibrosis in PKD and the possible role of DAMPs.
PKDF: What is the end goal of your research study for this Fellowship?
YZ: My work will investigate the role of LKB1-AMPK signaling in the regulation of key pathways involved in PKD pathogenesis, including cyst growth and inflammation. This study will also determine if direct activation of LKB1 is a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of PKD.
PKDF: Who is your mentor and how will their expertise assist you toward this end?
YZ: I am so lucky to work with Dr. Wallace. He has studied PKD pathogenesis for more than 25 years and has considerable experience in cell and animal models for PKD. Resources in his laboratory include primary human PKD cells, various PKD animal models, advanced molecular biology facilities and close cooperation with other investigators national wide. In addition, work from Dr. Wallace laboratory is very translational and focused on the identification of potential therapies and testing novel drugs.
PKDF: What are you most looking forward to over the course of your Fellowship?
YZ: I’m looking forward to having a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in cyst growth and PKD progression. I am also excited about our studies to identify novel therapeutic approaches to benefit PKD patients.
Our Fellowships and the work of outstanding PKD researchers wouldn’t be possible without the support of the PKD community. To help fund critical research that will bring treatments to patients faster, please consider becoming a monthly giver to the PKD Foundation today.