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 $60,000 a year for two years.

2018 Fellowship Recipients

Bruno Balbo, M.D., Ph.D.Bruno Balbo, M.D., Ph.D.

Yale University

Targeting the Cell Cycle as a Potential Treatment for ADPKD: the Role of Cyclin-dependent kinase 1

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Bruno Balbo, M.D., Ph.D.Bruno Balbo, M.D., Ph.D.

Yale University

Targeting the Cell Cycle as a Potential Treatment for ADPKD: the Role of Cyclin-dependent kinase 1 In this study, we will investigate the biological mechanisms in which an essential cell cycle regulator, the Cyclin dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1), interferes with renal disease progression in PKD models. We will focus on how cyst initiation and progression are affected through the subcellular evaluation of cell cycle markers, expression of regulatory proteins and protein-protein interactions. In addition, we will also test the effectiveness of pharmacologic inhibition of the FoxM1 transcriptional factor, a regulator of Cdk1, on halting disease progression. Elucidating the pathogenic mechanisms that link cell cycle regulation, ciliary abnormalities and disease progression in ADPKD could provide a translational basis for potential clinical studies.

Bruno Balbo, M.D., Ph.D.Bruno Balbo, M.D., Ph.D.

Yale University

Targeting the Cell Cycle as a Potential Treatment for ADPKD: the Role of Cyclin-dependent kinase 1 Dr. Balbo is a nephrologist trained at University of São Paulo, Brazil, where he completed a Ph.D. investigating cardiovascular complications in PKD. In 2017 he moved to the USA to undertake a post-doctoral fellowship under the guidance of Dr. Stefan Somlo at Yale School of Medicine.

Kai He, Ph.D.Kai He, Ph.D.

Mayo Clinic

Restoring ciliary level of functional polycystins as a novel therapeutic approach for ADPKD treatment

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Kai He, Ph.D.Kai He, Ph.D.

Mayo Clinic

Restoring ciliary level of functional polycystins as a novel therapeutic approach for ADPKD treatment ADPKD is the most common inherited renal disorders. Polycystin 1 and polycystin 2, encoded by the causal genes PKD1 and PKD2, have been proposed to form a receptor/channel complex on kidney epithelial cilia. Accumulating evidence suggest a link between the level of functional polycystins and disease severity, indicative of a dosage model of cystogenesis. We recently discovered a novel paradigm that axoneme polyglutamylation is essential for the ciliary anchoring of polycystins. In this proposal, we will molecularly dissect the pathways regulating axoneme polyglutamylation and the ciliary localization of polycystins. We will further explore if restoring ciliary polycystins, by genetically or pharmaceutically targeting key regulators in glutamylation machinery, will suppress the development of PKD. An imaging-based high-content screening will be further used to discover more promising hits that could restore ciliary polycystins. Accomplishing this project will significantly advance our understanding of polycystin biology, and providing novel therapeutic avenues for ADPKD.

Kai He, Ph.D.Kai He, Ph.D.

Mayo Clinic

Restoring ciliary level of functional polycystins as a novel therapeutic approach for ADPKD treatment I received Doctoral degree from the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in biochemistry and molecular biology in 2016. During my Ph.D. training, I worked on studying the mechanisms of cell death-survival determination and cell differentiation. Particularly, I studied the molecular connection between mitochondrial dysfunction and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in cancer progression, and the molecular bases of cell fate determination during TGF--induced simultaneous apoptosis and EMT. I moved to Mayo Clinic in 2016 for postdoctoral research training. My current research direction is focus on cilia signaling and ciliopathies, especially autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD). I focus on how the PKD proteins and other cilia-related signaling machineries properly localize to cilia to execute the sensory function. My long term research goals are advancing the understanding of cilia biology and further identifying novel therapeutic approach/targets/hits that address unmet clinical needs of ciliopathies patients.

2017 Fellowship Recipients

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 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 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.

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

University of Kansas Medical Center, the Kidney Institute

PKD gene therapy targeting the 4E-BP1 pathway

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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 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.

2015 Fellowship Recipients

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. Read more about Dr. Cassini

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. Read more about Dr. Besse

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.