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UCLA scientist awarded $3 million for kidney research

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On March 31, UCLA Health System announced that Dr. Ira Kurtz had received a $3 million award from the Donald T. Sterling Foundation to fund research on the structural properties of key proteins in the kidney. These proteins affect the kidney's function in health and disease. His goal is to develop new molecular approaches that will promote the development of drugs to treat patients with various kidney disorders. Dr. Kurtz is a professor of medicine who holds the Factor Chair in nephrology and is chief of the division of nephrology at UCLA.

Dr. Kurtz explained, “This gift will play a key role in accelerating the success of ongoing research projects in my lab.” He added that there is currently a worldwide epidemic of kidney disease and that more than 500 million people worldwide have some form of kidney damage. He noted, “Millions of people are affected and die each year, and a disproportionate number in the Unites States are African Americans, Latinos and other minorities.”

One of his focuses is to determine the atomic structure of various proteins in the kidney that contribute to kidney disease. The proteins he studies are present either in the plasma membrane surrounding the cell (membrane proteins) or are located inside the cell (soluble proteins). His lab utilizes a variety of methodologies, including x-ray crystallography, biochemical, cell and molecular biology, as well as genetic approaches to understand the structure and functional properties of kidney proteins.

His research team is hopeful that with intense scrutiny of the structure of both membrane and soluble kidney proteins, they will be able to develop new therapeutics, which will target specific disease-causing proteins while leaving other normal proteins unaffected. Dr. Kurtz noted, “Determining the structure of these disease-causing proteins is vital for designing very specific drugs. If we are successful, we have the great benefit of being able to use much lower doses of a particular drug, which is very beneficial to patients, since side effects and unwanted symptoms are significantly reduced.” He explained that in the US alone, more than 25 million individuals suffer from some degree of kidney function impairment, and more than 600,000 patients are on dialysis or have received a kidney transplant at a cost of more than $32 billion annually to taxpayers.

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