PKD Research Fellowships

To move us forward in finding treatments, we select outstanding researchers as recipients of the PKD Foundation Fellowships. The fellowships recognize early-career scientists whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars – the next generation of scientific leaders in PKD research. Each fellow receives $50,000 a year for two years.

“The PKD Foundation’s fellowship program is a critical way to usher in the next generation of PKD researchers,” said Terry Watnick, M.D., PKD Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee Chair. “Without them, the future of PKD research is stagnant. Our goal is to foster their commitment to PKD research and continue our momentum toward finding treatments and a cure.”

Read a Q&A from fellowship mentor Stefan Somlo, M.D.

Ashima Gulati, M.D.Ashima Gulati, M.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Genetic variants predisposing to intracranial aneurysm formation in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease

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Ashima Gulati, M.D.Ashima Gulati, M.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Genetic variants predisposing to intracranial aneurysm formation in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is the most common genetic form of kidney failure that can involve other organ systems. Dilatation of blood vessels in the brain called brain aneurysm is a prominent cause of death and permanent neurological damage in ADPKD. The risk of brain aneurysm in ADPKD is five times higher than in the general population. Brain aneurysms also cluster in ADPKD families, such that the risk is several times higher in the presence of an ADPKD family member with history of brain aneurysms. Our research aims to identify genetic defects predisposing to brain aneurysm formation in ADPKD. Our approach will use computer-programming techniques to identify genetic markers that are overrepresented in the DNA of ADPKD patients with brain aneurysm when compared with the healthy population and with ADPKD patients without brain aneurysm. We will also try to develop a mouse model of brain aneurysm to help with future studies—such a model does not currently exist. We expect to identify clinically useful genetic markers for determining individual brain aneurysm risk in ADPKD. These findings will serve to allow earlier detection which is the first step toward preventing the devastating outcome of brain aneurysm rupture in patients at risk.

Ashima Gulati, M.D.Ashima Gulati, M.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Genetic variants predisposing to intracranial aneurysm formation in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease

Dr. Gulati is a pediatric nephrologist with a medical degree from New Delhi, India and training in pediatrics and nephrology at University of Connecticut and Yale School of Medicine. Her research is part of the Investigative Medicine Ph.D. program at the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her mentor, Stefan Somlo, M.D., is director of the Center for Polycystic Disease Research at Yale School of Medicine.

Sara Holditch, Ph.D.Sara Holditch, Ph.D.

University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus

PKD gene therapy targeting the 4E-BP1 pathway

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Sara Holditch, Ph.D.Sara Holditch, Ph.D.

University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus

PKD gene therapy targeting the 4E-BP1 pathway

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is a common, devastating, and life threatening disease without FDA-approved treatment. The expansion of kidney cysts in patients with PKD is a major cause of disease severity and complications. The 4E-BP1 pathway is important in regulating cellular proliferation. In non-cystic diseases where cells proliferate unchecked, such as cancer, the 4E-BP1 pathway is dysregulated and associated with worsening outcome. In PKD, the 4E-BP1 pathway is dysregulated too, but hasn’t received much attention. Using a mutant that cannot be dysregulated, named F113A 4E-BP1, we’ve shown that expression of F113A 4E-BP1 results in inhibition of the 4E-BP1 pathway and less cellular proliferation. In previous studies, we’ve used safe, non-dividing viruses to deliver genes to protect against PKD. Here, we propose to use these same viruses to deliver the F113A, to see if in mice, we can reduce cyst size and kidney disease.

Sara Holditch, Ph.D.Sara Holditch, Ph.D.

University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus

PKD gene therapy targeting the 4E-BP1 pathway

Dr. Holditch earned a bachelor’s degree in microbial biology from the University of California, Berkeley and completed her Ph.D. in virology and gene therapy at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. She has authored 19 publications, (six as first author). Her research is under the mentorship of Charles Edelstein, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally known expert in biomarkers of kidney disease and PKD.

Ekaterina Marilovtseva, Ph.D.Ekaterina Marilovtseva, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Medical Center

The roles of histone/lysine methyltransferase in ADPKD

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Ekaterina Marilovtseva, Ph.D.Ekaterina Marilovtseva, Ph.D

University of Kansas Medical Center

The roles of histone/lysine methyltransferase in ADPKD

In this study, we will investigate the functional roles and the underling mechanisms of histone/lysine methyltransferase, Smyd2, in regulating cyst progression, and will test whether targeting Smyd2 with its specific inhibitor delays cyst growth in vivo. We will also identify novel Smyd2 target genes in regulating renal epithelial cell proliferation, apoptosis and ciliopathy during cyst development. Accomplishing this project will lead to a better understanding of the mechanism of renal cyst formation and will provide novel therapeutic targets for ADPKD treatment.

Ekaterina Marilovtseva, Ph.D.Ekaterina Marilovtseva, Ph.D

University of Kansas Medical Center

The roles of histone/lysine methyltransferase in ADPKD

Dr. Marilovtseva is a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC). She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biochemistry at Siberian Federal University (Russia), and a Ph.D. in molecular genetics at Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine, Russian Academy of Sciences. Her research is under the mentorship of Xiaogang Li, Ph.D., an internationally known PKD researcher in renal inflammation and epigenetics, and director of the Epigenetics Core Center at KUMC.

Yan Zhang, Ph.D.Yan Zhang, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Medical Center, the Kidney Institute

Targeting the LKB1-AMPK signaling pathway in polycystic kidney disease

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Yan Zhang, Ph.D.Yan Zhang, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Medical Center, the Kidney Institute

Targeting the LKB1-AMPK signaling pathway in polycystic kidney disease

This study proposes to define the functional role of LKB1-AMPK signaling pathway in the process of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and explore if AMPK activation by a novel LKB1 activator will slow the development of PKD. This study will advance our understanding of a key cell energy pathway in the progression of PKD and hopefully provide a novel therapeutic approach for PKD treatment.

Yan Zhang, Ph.D.Yan Zhang, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Medical Center, the Kidney Institute

Targeting the LKB1-AMPK signaling pathway in polycystic kidney disease

Dr. Zhang 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 P. Wallace, Ph.D., at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

View 2015 Fellowship recipients

Whitney Besse, M.D.Whitney Besse, M.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Genetic mechanisms of cyst pathogenesis in polycystic liver and kidney diseases

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Whitney Besse, M.D.Whitney Besse, M.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Genetic mechanisms of cyst pathogenesis in polycystic liver and kidney diseases

Dr. Besse earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Brown University, a medical degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and completed residencies in internal medicine and nephrology at the Yale School of Medicine. Her mentor, Stefan Somlo, M.D., is director of the Center for Polycystic Disease Research at Yale School of Medicine.

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Marcelo Cassini, M.D., Ph.D.Marcelo Cassini, M.D., Ph.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Can Mcp1 knock-out and blockage of macrophage receptor CCR2 alter the outcome of polycystic kidney disease?

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Marcelo Cassini, M.D., Ph.D.Marcelo Cassini, M.D., Ph.D.

Yale University School of Medicine

Can Mcp1 knock-out and blockage of macrophage receptor CCR2 alter the outcome of polycystic kidney disease?

Dr. Cassini earned an M.S. degree in kidney transplantation and a Ph.D. in kidney injury from the University of Sao Paulo – Brazil. He received his medical degree at Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro – Brazil and completed residency training in surgery and urology at State University of Rio de Janeiro. His research is under the guidance of mentor Lloyd Cantley, M.D., at Yale School of Medicine.

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Jeong-In Baek, Ph.D.Jeong-In Baek, Ph.D.

Medical University of South Carolina

The role of Tuba in ciliogenesis and cytogenesis

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Jeong-In Baek, Ph.D.Jeong-In Baek, Ph.D.

Medical University of South Carolina

The role of Tuba in ciliogenesis and cytogenesis

Dr. Baek is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine, Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in molecular biology, and a Ph.D. in human genetics from Kyungpook National University in South Korea. She has authored over 21 publications (nine as first author). Her research is under the mentorship of Joshua Lipschutz, M.D., internationally known expert in renal ciliogenesis and PKD.

Jacqueline Peda, Ph.D.Jacqueline Peda, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Medical Center

The regulation of cardiac remodeling by PC1 and SMYD1 in polycystic kidney disease

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Jacqueline Peda, Ph.D.Jacqueline Peda, Ph.D.

University of Kansas Medical Center

The regulation of cardiac remodeling by PC1 and SMYD1 in polycystic kidney disease

Dr. Peda earned her B.S. in biology at Washburn University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in pathology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She is pursuing post-doctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Xiaogang Li at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Irfana Soomro, MBBSIrfana Soomro, MBBS

New York University Langone Medical Center

Targeting glutamine metabolism as a potential treatment for ADPKD

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Irfana Soomro, MBBSIrfana Soomro, MBBS

New York University Langone Medical Center

Targeting glutamine metabolism as a potential treatment for ADPKD

Dr. Soomro earned her MBBS (bachelor of medicine/surgery) at Dow Medical College – Karachi, Pakistan. She is a clinical instructor in the division of nephrology at New York University Langone Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Medical Center. Her research is under the mentorship of Edward Skolnik, M.D., director of the Division of Nephrology.