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Benjamin Freedman, Ph.D., first became interested in polycystic kidney disease (PKD) because some members of his extended family are affected by it. “I started reading about PKD and was fascinated by what we know and what we don’t know about it, and by the opportunity to potentially find a therapy for this disease that affects so many people.” He has been studying PKD for about seven years now.
Dr. Freedman first became involved with the PKD Foundation when he was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, performing pioneering studies using pluripotent stem cells to recreate features of human PKD. Back then, he attended the Walk for PKD in Boston with his friends and colleagues. Now that Dr. Freedman has his own lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, his connection with the Foundation has deepened even more. This summer, Dr. Freedman was a speaker at the PKD National Convention, and he continues to participate in the Walk. “I have been quite involved with the Seattle Chapter. I just attended the Walk for PKD here, and we had a team of about 20 people from the Kidney Research Institute. We have raised a substantial amount of dollars for the Foundation,” he says.
Earlier this year, Dr. Freedman was also one of 15 outstanding researchers to be awarded a research grant for the total amount of $160,000 over two years. His project titled Modeling Human PKD Cystogenesis With Pluripotent Stem Cells uses these cells to generate human mini-kidney “organoids” and recreate PKD in lab dishes. “I was very fortunate to be awarded a research grant from the PKD Foundation,” says Dr. Freedman, who’s excited to continue to work on this project. “It took us about five years to get where we are, but we have really made a lot of progress,” he says. “We can now look at the ‘organoids’ under a microscope and watch cysts form over time so we can investigate how it’s happening–and how it might be prevented,” he explains.
Dr. Freedman is very encouraged by the progress he and his team are making. “Our work has opened up a new area of PKD research that wasn’t there before.” He points out that other laboratories and pharmaceutical companies are interested in this area and in using the tools his team has begun to develop to test out potential therapies. “I also think our work is giving patients hope. Potentially, in the future, we could see clinical trials in a dish, or gene-editing therapies and organ regeneration from a patient’s own cells.” For now, Dr. Freedman’s research has found that there are certain conditions that may be more or less favorable for cysts to form. “We have also begun to understand more completely the effects that the PKD mutation has at a molecular level. These findings are helping us to figure out what is happening in PKD and the types of interventions that might be helpful in patients,” he says.
Dr. Freedman’s passion for PKD research and the scientific process are evident. “PKD is really a fascinating disease. Every day we learn something new in the lab. These discoveries stimulate our curiosity even further.” He understands that it takes the whole community of researchers, patients and supporters to make significant progress. “We’re beginning to put together this puzzle. It’s a big challenge and it will be the work of many to figure it out.”
The patients and the PKD research community are the reasons why Dr. Freedman is so committed to PKD research. “I’ve gotten to know many more people who have been affected by PKD, and it’s inspiring to hear their stories,” he says. “We also have a really outstanding research community. I’ve had great mentors in this field who have really supported me. They have provided me with the encouragement to stay on this path and to take the work that they have done and carry the torch forward so we continue to make great progress.”
Dr. Freedman is being honored at Gratitude for his remarkable contributions to PKD research. “I feel humbled to be honored at Gratitude because there are so many people who have contributed to this field for so many years. To me, this is a vote of confidence and an expression that I am on the right track.” He shares this honor with the small but dedicated team of researchers that work with him in his lab. “Progress would not be possible without their efforts each and every day,” he says. Dr. Freedman also hopes the Benefit will continue to raise awareness of PKD so that everyone can understand how important this disease is, and that there is hope.