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Finer Receives K-award to Study Childhood Kidney and Urinary Tract Problems

Gal Finer, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Kidney Diseases at Lurie Children’s, recently received a 5-year K08 award from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to study the molecular mechanisms underlying congenital anomalies of the kidney and urinary tract, or CAKUT – a common birth defect and the leading cause of chronic kidney disease in children.

The survival rate of children born with CAKUT is 30 times lower than that of healthy children so the disease imposes a huge health burden. To date, there are no means to restore kidney function in patients with CAKUT, and many children progress to kidney failure and require dialysis or kidney transplantation before adulthood.

According to Finer, it is clear that CAKUT arises from disruption in normal kidney development. However, there is still much to learn about the molecular processes that lead to the disease. Finer’s study will hopefully answer some of the fundamental questions in stem-cell biology of the kidney and will contribute to the significant global effort currently underway to regenerate the kidney.

“Among the things that we still don’t understand about CAKUT is how the stem-cells of the kidney keep the delicate balance between self-renewal and differentiation that is crucial to forming a kidney of normal size and function,” explained Finer. “Our research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate kidney stem-cell differentiation as part of a growing effort to identify therapies that will increase the kidney’s ability to regenerate.”

In 2017, Finer received the National Kidney Foundation Young Investigator Award that helped to obtain preliminary data for the K08. As an emerging clinician-scientist, the NIH-K08 will provide Finer the resources and protected research time vital to expanding this work over the next 5 years.        

In the course of the project, Finer will address her questions by using mouse models of CAKUT, advanced imaging techniques, and single-cell sequencing analysis in collaboration with Northwestern research cores including NUGoKidney’s Preclinical Models, NU Sequencing, Flow-Cytometry, and Pathology Cores.

“Unfortunately, the kidney loses its ability to regenerate at birth. We hope to learn more about the mechanisms of stem-cell self-renewal and those that drive these cells to differentiate to over twenty-five distinct cell types of the mature kidney. These processes are disrupted in CAKUT so obtaining this knowledge is critical for devising therapeutic approaches,” Finer said.

Priya Verghese, MD, MPH, Professor of Pediatrics and Division Head in the Division of Kidney Diseases, at Lurie Children’s commented, “Gal’s work is exciting because it lays the foundation for understanding the basic mechanisms of how the kidneys develop with and without defects. Her work could eventually lead to breakthrough therapies to prevent these congenital anomalies.”

Finer will work with a multi-disciplinary team of mentors, established principal investigators, associates, and colleagues, including:

  • Susan Quaggin, MD - Director, Feinberg Cardiovascular & Renal Research Institute; Chief of Nephrology & Hypertension in the Department of Medicine; Director, NUGoKidney
  • Beatriz Sosa-Pineda, PhD - Professor, Medicine (Nephrology & Hypertension), Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Guillermo Oliver, PhD - Director, Center for Vascular and Developmental Biology; Thomas D. Spies Professor of Lymphatic Metabolism; Director, NUGoKidney Preclinical Models Core
  • Tomoko Hayashida, MD, PhD - Research Associate Professor, Pediatric Kidney Diseases, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Paul Schumacker, PhD – Professor, Pediatrics (Neonatology), Cell and Developmental Biology, and Medicine (Pulmonary & Critical Care), Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Deborah Winter, PhD – Assistant Professor of Medicine (Rheumatology), Feinberg School of Medicine
  • William Schnaper, MD - Associate Chair for Faculty Development, Department of Pediatrics; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Tuncer Onay, PhD – Senior Research Associate, Director, NUGoKidney Genome Editing Core, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • David Kirchenbuechler, PhD - Data Analysis Specialist, Center of Advanced Microscopy, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Constandina Arvanitis, PhD – Director, Center of Advanced Microscopy, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Xiangmin Zhao – Research Associate, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Jing Jin, MD, PhD – Assistant Professor, Medicine (Nephrology & Hypertension), NUGoKidney Therapeutic Design & Development Core, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Benjamin Thompson, PhD – Research Associate, Medicine (Nephrology & Hypertension), Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Pan Liu, PhD - Research Assistant Professor of Medicine (Nephrology and Hypertension), Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Rizaldy Scott, PhD – Research Assistant Professor of Medicine (Nephrology and Hypertension), Feinberg School of Medicine
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