Meet Michal Mrug, M.D., Chair of the PKD Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). The Scientific Advisory Committee is comprised of 14 of the most prestigious physicians and scientists in the United States investigating the causes of and treatments for PKD. Together, these individuals oversee our research and clinical programs focused on ARPKD and ADPKD. We recently reached out to Dr. Mrug to catch up with how he and the SAC are doing after taking on his new position last fall:
PKD Foundation: What inspired you to go into kidney/PKD research?
Dr. Michal Mrug: Dr. Lisa Guay-Woodford — a past Chair of this SAC. I feel so fortunate that I had a chance to be a post-doctoral fellow in her lab. She is an exceptional role model, a brilliant scientist, exceptionally caring physician, and an outstanding mentor.
PKDF: Did Dr. Guay-Woodford introduce you to the PKD Foundation?
MM: Yes, through the PKD Foundation’s Fellowship program. With her support, I was able to submit a competitive Fellowship application. It was this PKD Foundation fellowship that then fostered my deep commitment to PKD research.
PKDF: What is your research focus in particular?
MM: My basic research is focused on the identification of molecular pathways that modulate progression of renal cystic diseases, especially those related to inflammation.
I also oversee clinical PKD research activities at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) including the CRISP study, a collaborative effort between Emory University, University of Kansas, Mayo Clinic, UAB and University of Pittsburgh that has led to many seminal discoveries. My clinical research interests are focused on the development of statistical models for prediction of kidney function decline in patients with ADPKD over time.
In addition, I direct the Therapeutics development and screening core, one of four cores within the UAB Hepatorenal Fibrocystic Disease Core Center (HRFD CC). The UAB HRFD CC is one of four NIH-funded P30 centers focused on PKD, with the other three PKD Core Centers being located at University of Kansas, Mayo Clinic and University of Maryland. The mission of these centers is to help other scientists to advance their research by providing them with services that would otherwise not be available at their research institutions. The activities of the UAB HRFD CC are centered on autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease (ARPKD) and other recessive fibrocystic disorders affecting the kidney and liver.
PKDF: Tell us a bit about what you do outside of research.
MM: Outside of my PKD research, I care for patients with PKD, tuberous sclerosis, and other conditions affecting the kidneys. I also enjoy training the next generations of physicians and scientists. When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family.
PKDF: After being a member of the SAC, how do you feel about becoming the leader?
MM: It is a different experience. As a SAC member, I promoted my own opinions and ideas. As a leader of this group, I would like to understand better how every SAC member envisions his or her roles within the SAC and beyond, and how I may be able to help them to realize these visions. I hope that together we will make the SAC stronger and more capable of advancing the mission of the PKD Foundation.
PKDF: What are your major goals for your time as Chair?
MM: I would like to build on the vison set by the immediate-past chair Dr. Terry Watnick. I am delighted that I can continue to work with her closely and most appreciate her help and guidance.
Specifically, I would like to work with SAC members on several opportunities to advance the PKD Foundation mission. This includes prioritization of the most promising research grant applications from established PKD investigators, as well as most talented junior scientists that apply for the PKD Foundation fellowship. We also plan to explore opportunities to better integrate PKD patients’ voices in those decisions and examine strategies to further enhance reproducibility of PKD Foundation-funded research.
PKDF: Where do you see PKD research going in the next five or ten years?
MM: This is a fundamental question. However, the answer is complicated because we cannot accurately predict future events. Perhaps the data from existing and future clinical trials will transform clinical care as well as the direction of future studies in PKD. Likely, we will also see more extensive use of emerging technologies in high-throughput analyses, gene editing, imaging, personalized medicine and “big data” research. These advances will likely accelerate understanding of the pathobiology of PKD progression as well as individual differences in PKD manifestations.
I believe that one of the most powerful ways to get ready for future research advances is to establish a high-quality patient registry for patients with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD). Access to ADPKD patients through this registry may catalyze translation of emerging technologies and scientific breakthroughs to ADPKD research and clinical care. In addition, the ADPKD Registry may transform research strategies directed towards future transformative discoveries focused on subgroups of ADPKD patients that share similar manifestations, such as a very rapid cystic kidney growth or kidney function loss, severe cystic liver disease, vascular aneurysms, kidney stones, urinary infections or pain. I anticipate that participation in the ADPKD Registry and in clinical trials will become the two important ways how ADPKD patients themselves will directly advance research progress towards more advanced ADPKD care.
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