Published on June 22, 2021
Xiangqin Cui, Ph.D., Emory University
How did you first get involved in PKD research?
Xiangqin: When I was a postdoc in Dr. Gary Churchill’s lab at the Jackson Laboratory, Dr. Churchill had collaborations with Dr. Lisa Guay-Woodford in mapping PKD modifier genes in mice. Although my research topic was not on QTL mapping at that time, Dr. Churchill believed that, as a member of his group, I should know how to analyze QLT data and the PKD project was for me to learn QTL analysis. I met Dr. Michal Mrug, who was a postdoc in the Guay-Woodford lab and started the journey of PKD research. I ended up having a joint faculty position in the Biostatistics Department and the Genetics Department at UAB in 2004. We’ve been collaborating ever since.
What are you working on currently?
Xiangqin: I’m working on predicting kidney function decline in PKD patients using electronic medical records in the VA health system. VA is the largest health system in the nation, and it started its electronic health records in the ’90s. My colleagues and I are working on building a PKD cohort of 12,000 patients for studying risk factors, comorbidities, and kidney function decline prediction at the patient level. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re also studying the risk of PKD patients for severe COVID-19 illness in comparison with other patient groups.
What would you like the patient community to know about your research?
Xiangqin: In the age of “big data” and artificial intelligence (AI), power is in the numbers. We can take advantage of the advancement of AI technology for personalized PKD prediction/treatment/management only when we have access to large quantities and high-quality data.
What excites you most about this research?
Xiangqin: I work directly with patient medical records. Any meaningful results we get in our research can be quickly implemented in the health system to make a difference. Nothing makes me more excited than seeing my research make a difference in PKD patient’s lives.
What are some of your personal interests outside of research?
Xiangqin: Reading and gardening are my favorite things outside of research. I like books on ordinary people, which keep me grounded in reality. As the mean and median provide the expectation for distribution in statistics, the stories of ordinary people tell me the state of the world. Gardening brings me the joy of nature and teaches me the importance of time and patience.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Xiangqin: One of my previous advisors said that each person has about five “bad” mutations in our genome on average. Some we know, such as PKD, and some we don’t know. These mutations are associated with different diseases. As a biomedical scientist and statistician, my favorite disease is PKD. For me, the most interesting thing in the world is looking at PKD data. Check out Dr. Xiangqin Cui’s project and others funded by the PKDF here! And read more recent researcher spotlights.
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. Our vision is to #endPKD. Donations fund necessary research that leads to more effective treatments and ultimately a cure for PKD.