By Deborah Manog, UH Student Journalist
Medical research at the University of Hawai`i Mānoa (UHM) aimed at preventing kidney disease in children is being recognized with a prestigious grant by the March of Dimes.
The Basil O’Connor Starter Scholarship Research Award, presented to John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Researcher Ben Fogelgren, is worth $150,000 over the next two years. This is the first time a Hawai`i investigator has won the award.
“I have always loved science, but am thrilled to be able to focus on research that can be translated into new therapies and diagnostics for patients,” said Dr. Fogelgren, Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Biochemistry and Physiology at JABSOM.
Hawaiʻi’s population has a 30% higher chance of suffering from kidney failure than the national average, according to the National Kidney Foundation of Hawai`i. Starter scholar awards are designed for young scientists at the beginning of their independent careers and help support basic research. Dr. Fogelgren’s research is dedicated to prevent kidney diseases in children by seeking ways to improve the ability to diagnose and predict disease progression as well as to expand available treatment options.
Dr. Fogelgren, of Kane’ohe, is also a devoted father of a 6-year-old son and hopes his work can help children all over the world.
“Throughout my career I have been particularly driven to fight diseases affecting children and so I am overjoyed to receive this award from the March of Dimes. They have been at the forefront in the fight against child suffering for 70 years,” Dr. Fogelgren said.
The leading causes of kidney disease in children and infants are urinary tract obstructions that are developed while the unborn baby is still in the womb. These blockages lead to hydronephrosis, swelling of the kidneys, which is also the most common prenatal abnormality detected by ultrasound. It can cause highly inconsistent and unpredictable damage to the kidneys so it is difficult to decide when surgery is needed.
The causes of these birth defects are largely unknown and for the longest time, there have been no scientific tools to study this disease. In the last two years, Dr. Fogelgren and his outstanding research team of several UHM students and a postdoctoral trainee have created a unique mouse model that consistently forms a blockage between the kidney and bladder, within a womb, and leads to severe swelling and kidney damage.
They are hopeful that this study will advance to a better understanding of human urinary obstructions and to the discovery of new treatments and diagnostic tools for this pediatric disease. Chronic kidney disease is also caused by other conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure. Unfortunately there are few treatment options for most types of kidney diseases other than dialysis and transplant.
The March of Dimes was initially established in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to fight polio. Today, the foundation focuses on the prevention of health problems in babies, especially premature birth, birth defects and low birthweight. A number of researchers funded by the foundation have gone on to win Nobel prizes, including three recipients of Basil O’Connor awards.
In addition to funding from the March of Dimes, Dr. Fogelgren’s research at JABSOM is supported by the The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases(NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health and the Hawai`i Community Foundation, and support from the Research Centers in Minority Institutions Program.