Press release

American Kidney Fund Awards Two Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Fellowships to Researchers Focused on Disparities in Kidney Transplants, Genetic Variants in Nephrotic Syndrome

Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital will study health disparities, renal genetics with support from AKF

ROCKVILLE, Md. (March 10, 2022) — The American Kidney Fund (AKF) today announced the 2022 funding recipients through its Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Program, which seeks to advance patient care for all those affected by kidney disease and addresses the urgent need for more highly trained investigators in the field. Jillian Caldwell, DO, a nephrology fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Janewit Wongboonsin, MD, MS, a clinical and research fellow in the Brigham and Women's Hospital-Massachusetts General Hospital (BWH-MGH) Renal Fellowship Program conducting his post-doctoral research at Boston Children's Hospital, will begin their AKF-funded projects in July.

Since 1989, this highly competitive research program has funded more than 40 nephrologists dedicated to improving the quality of care provided to people with kidney disease. The American Kidney Fund's Clinical Scientist in Nephrology program is funded with generous support from Akebia Therapeutics, Inc.

"We are very pleased to provide this year's AKF Clinical Scientist in Nephrology fellowships to two researchers who are dedicated to improving health outcomes for people affected by kidney disease through their innovative studies in the areas of health equity and genetics," said LaVarne A. Burton, AKF President and CEO. "Thanks to support from Akebia Therapeutics, Inc., we are able to continue our decades-long commitment to funding groundbreaking research through this vital program."

"Akebia proudly supports the AKF Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Program, which has provided funding to help usher in a new generation of talented researchers investigating kidney disease," said John Butler, president and CEO of Akebia Therapeutics, Inc. "Approximately 37 million adults in the U.S. are affected by kidney disease, which is an alarming number that reinforces the need to work with urgency to advance research on their behalf."

Dr. Caldwell's project will examine the interplay between immunologic matching in kidney transplants and equitable access to transplantation. While immunologically matched kidney transplants demonstrate better outcomes in terms of patient and kidney survival, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive fully matched kidneys, a disparity historically attributed to the genetic makeup of the donor pool. Her project will examine the reasons for this disparity and evaluate alternative kidney allocation strategies that enhance access to well-matched kidney transplants. Dr. Caldwell's long-term goals include devising better systems, including policy changes, to enhance access and equity in kidney transplantation. Improving health equity and enhancing access to care are longstanding priorities of AKF's.

"Kidney transplantation is a way to restore our patients' quality of life and health and should be accessible to all. However, disparities still exist and many patients' transplants are compromised by systemic barriers to care, such as inability to afford immunosuppression," Dr. Caldwell said. "I am grateful to AKF for this opportunity and hope our work will advance policies that grant all patients equal access to well-matched, successful kidney transplants." 

Dr. Wongboonsin will study the genetic signatures of nephrotic syndrome, a rare disorder with a group of symptoms that indicate a person's kidneys are losing essential proteins in the urine, through an existing electronic health record-linked biobank of 130,000 participants of the Mass General Brigham Biobank. He hopes to expand the understanding of the prevalence and clinical impact of nephrotic syndrome genetic variants and create a large, genetically mapped cohort of patients that will be valuable for current and future clinical genetic epidemiology studies. These discoveries may also be used to inform a precision medicine approach to kidney disease. His professional goal is to become an independent investigator in kidney genetics, leading a translational kidney genomics research program.

"Genomic information has shown promise in assisting with diagnosis and management of multiple diseases. Nephrology is starting to integrate the use of genetic information to help our patients," Dr. Wongboonsin said. "My research aims to understand the impact of genetic forms of nephrotic syndrome on adults with this disease. Doing so will ultimately enable us to use genomic information more effectively to augment the care we provide."

Dr. Caldwell earned her Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience at McGill University and her medical degree at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her residency at the University of Illinois-Chicago and is now in a nephrology fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.  

Dr. Wongboonsin earned his medical degree from the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, in Bangkok, Thailand. After completing his residency, chief residency, and Master of Science in Clinical Research at the University of Minnesota, he is a nephrology fellow in the BWH-MGH Renal Fellowship Program and a research fellow at Boston Children's Hospital.

About the American Kidney Fund

The American Kidney Fund (AKF) fights kidney disease on all fronts as the nonprofit with the greatest direct impact on people with kidney disease. AKF works on behalf of 1 in 7 Americans living with kidney disease, and the millions more at risk, with an unmatched scope of programs that support people wherever they are in their fight against kidney disease—from prevention through transplant. AKF fights for kidney health for all through programs that address early detection, disease management, financial assistance, clinical research, innovation and advocacy. AKF is one of the nation’s top-rated nonprofits, investing 97 cents of every donated dollar in programs, and holds the highest 4-Star rating from Charity Navigator for 21 consecutive years and the Platinum Seal of Transparency from Candid, formerly known as GuideStar. 

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