Published June 9, 2020
Laurel Willig, M.D., Children’s Mercy
How did you first get involved in PKD research?
Laurel: I have had a strong interest in the genetics of pediatric renal disease since fellowship. When I started clinical practice, seeing PKD patients was a natural fit for me. I then had the good fortune of meeting Darren Wallace, Ph.D., from KUMC who has built his career around PKD research. I had more background in next-generation sequencing and newer genomic technologies and he has such a strong knowledge of PKD biology and so a natural partnership formed, and he has ended up being a great mentor to me in this space.
What are you working on currently?
Laurel: I am currently working on the molecular characterization of early cyst formation in a pig model of ADPKD. We’ve been working with Exemplar genetics to characterize the transcriptional changes in a multitude of cell types in cystic locations in the pig with the hope of finding targetable pathways for early treatment.
What would you like the patient community to know about your research?
Laurel: While right now most of my work is in the animal modeling of the disease where we’ve found some transcriptional differences, I hope to expand what I’m learning to patients in the future. As such, I would encourage those who have the opportunity to participate in biobank research or other studies currently recruiting patients to participate.
Do you have a personal connection to PKD?
Laurel: One of my best friends has ADPKD and she’s taught me so much about living with the disease. I hope that someday my work will help her or her children. While my patients may not realize how important they are to me, I do feel a strong connection with them and draw inspiration from them every time we meet.
What excites you most about this research?
Laurel: It’s hard not to be excited about PKD at this time, given the recent advances in medical treatment for the disease. Also, in genomics, gene therapy is becoming a real possibility for a large number of genetic diseases. I have high hopes that more characterization of the genetic drivers of disease will allow for targeted gene therapy in my lifetime.
What are some of your personal interests outside of research?
Laurel: I enjoy spending time outdoors with my family, knitting, and reading.
The PKD Foundation is the largest private funder of PKD research in the U.S. Since 1982, we’ve invested over $50 million in more than 1,300 research, clinical and scientific grants, fellowships, and scientific meetings. Each year, the Foundation identifies and supports the work of scientists and researchers from around the world who look for ways to treat and eventually cure PKD.
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