Through generous donations from the NephCure Kidney International community, NephCure has been able to support Dr. Martin Pollak’s kidney disease research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital) since 2007. Dr. Pollak’s lab works on identifying genetic causes of kidney diseases, like FSGS. They have made some very exciting progress over the past few years, leading to Dr. Pollak’s election into the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in 2014.
Dr. Pollak’s research has identified that two common variations in the apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1) gene impart up to a ten-fold increased susceptibility to FSGS among African Americans. African Americans and others of recent African ancestry suffer disproportionately from chronic kidney disease: although they make up 13% of the U.S. population, they represent 35% of all individuals on dialysis. Other researchers have calculated that 1 in 8 African Americans are at risk for developing kidney disease due to APOL1—stark numbers that may indicate that some forms are FSGS would not be classified as a “rare disease.”
But the research being done at Dr. Pollak’s lab may one day help prevent treat—and prevent—this disease from occurring. Dr. Pollak was recently featured in an article on SFGate.com as saying that “We want to put our own [kidney disease research] division out of business by preventing this disease to begin with.”
We are thrilled to offer a “progress report” on this work directly from Dr. Pollak’s lab. We spoke recently with Andrea Knob, a genetic counselor, clinical research coordinator, and key player in Dr. Pollak’s study, who gave us some background on the work the study is doing, what we can expect from this lab in the future, and how you can get involved in this research yourself.
Q: What is the goal of the research being done in Dr. Pollak’s lab?
Andrea: The purpose of our study is to learn more about the causes of kidney conditions including FSGS, Nephrotic syndrome, unexplained proteinuria, and renal failure by studying genetics. We identify and study genetic factors that may contribute to the development of these conditions. We hope that this will further the knowledge required for scientists to develop better treatments in the future.
Q: What is your role at Dr. Pollak’s lab?
Andrea: I am the clinical research coordinator for Dr. Pollak’s lab. With my background in genetic counseling, I help patients and families navigate the research process, assist them in documenting their personal and family health histories, and serve as a resource for any questions surrounding genetics and research. I am the liaison between our patients/families and our physicians/scientists.
Q: What do you enjoy about CKD research?
Andrea: Every person and family has a story to share, and this information is so valuable and so important. It is amazing to witness this generosity, and to be a part of a team that is so dedicated to making progress in this field. Research answers the questions that otherwise would be left unknown, and that in turn provides hope.
Q: What is APOL1?
Andrea: APOL1 is one of several genes that we study in the Pollak lab. Variations in this gene have been found to confer resistance to trypanosomiasis, a serious disease in some African regions, and as such these variations have risen in frequency in parts of Africa. We are investigating how these gene variants contribute to kidney disease in persons of African ancestry.
Q: Why did the lab decide to focus on APOL1?
Andrea: APOL1 is one of several genes that we study as we try to learn more about the causes of FSGS, Nephrotic syndrome, and related conditions in patients and families. Our lab’s interest in the genetics of FSGS led us to explore the basis of the high rate of FSGS in persons of African ancestry. Certain specific variations in the APOL1 gene contribute to this disparity.
Q: What impact can diagnosing an APOL1 mutation have on treatments for patients?
Andrea: We need to learn more about genes, including APOL1, that may contribute to the development of kidney disease. (We also think there are more to be discovered!) Diagnosing a gene mutation helps doctors determine who might be at increased risk of developing kidney disease. While it may not affect the treatment for patients at this time, the goal is to acquire the information we need about these gene variations in order to develop better treatments in the future.
Q: What is involved for patients in this study?
Andrea: Participation involves a questionnaire, a saliva sample, and a urine sample (if possible) that can be given from home. (If participants prefer to give a blood sample instead of a saliva sample we can help arrange this.)
Q: Who can participate in this study?
• Anyone with FSGS, Nephrotic syndrome, or unexplained proteinuria
• Anyone with a family member who has FSGS, Nephrotic syndrome, or unexplained proteinuria
• Anyone with African ethnicity with non diabetic kidney failure
• Any healthy individual without kidney disease
Q: How do I get more information about the study?
Contact Andrea Knob with any study related questions by phone at 617-667-0467 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read more about the research study by clicking here.