New Centers Advance Research in Health Equity, Epilepsy and Kidney Diseases

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$5.8 Million for Kidney Core Center

Feinberg received a prestigious $5.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to expand translational research into the prevention and treatment of kidney diseases.

The grant will fund the Northwestern University George M. O’Brien Kidney Core Center, bringing together basic and clinical scientists in a collaborative hub dedicated to identifying, testing and translating discoveries into novel therapeutics for patients with kidney diseases.

The center will be directed by Susan Quaggin, MD, chief of Nephrology and Hypertension in the Department of Medicine and the Charles H. Mayo, MD, Professor.

“The center brings together incredible scientists across disciplines on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses with a common goal — to end kidney disease. I am convinced that the unique ‘We WILL’ culture at Northwestern University made this possible,” said Quaggin, who is also director of the Feinberg Cardiovascular and Renal Research Institute.

The National Institutes of Health first established the George M. O’Brien Centers in 1987 as specialized centers of research into kidney and urologic diseases. There are currently just eight O’Brien Kidney Centers at institutions nationwide.

I am convinced that the unique ‘We WILL’ culture at Northwestern University made this possible.

—Susan Quaggin, MD

A Catalyst for Health Equity Transformation

Feinberg has established a new center within its Institute for Public Health and Medicine that will serve as a hub for students, faculty and staff engaged in efforts to improve health equity.

The Center for Health Equity Transformation, led by Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, ’06 GME, the George H. Gardner Professor of Clinical Gynecology, will build research infrastructure, conduct workforce development and work closely with community partners in the effort to advance population health equity.

“There is some amazing health equity work being done across the entire Northwestern campus, and I hope that this center can serve as a welcoming home and resource to support current work and, importantly, to catalyze even more transformational research, education and training that will move the needle in eliminating health disparities and promoting health equity in all sectors,” said Simon, also vice chair for clinical research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a professor of Preventive Medicine and Medical Social Sciences.

Health touches every aspect of an individual’s life, but a bevy of academic literature has linked an individual’s health status to their education, housing, employment, geographic location and more, Simon said. That interconnectivity requires a transdisciplinary approach to improving health equity, starting with scientific investigation.

$12 Million Grant for Epilepsy Research

With a new $12 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, Feinberg will establish an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to advancing the genetic understanding of epilepsy.

The Channelopathy-Associated Epilepsy Research Center, led by Alfred George, Jr., MD, chair and Magerstadt Professor of Pharmacology, will focus on investigating sodium and potassium channel genes, the dominant class of genes responsible for early childhood-onset epilepsy.

“Results from this work will contribute to improving the accuracy of genetic diagnosis of epilepsy and foster a better understanding of disease mechanisms at molecular and cellular levels,” George explained. “We will also strive to determine the optimal drug therapy for specific mutations — a step in the direction of precision medicine.”

Epilepsy, which affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures. The disorder often has a genetic basis, especially through ion channel gene mutations, known as channelopathies. In particular, variants in the genes that code for sodium and potassium channels account for the majority of genetic variants associated with epilepsy and related neurodevelopmental disorders.

However, differentiating pathogenic versus benign variants, and characterization of the clinical relevance of specific mutations, has remained challenging. Within the new center, a multi-institutional team of investigators aim to advance the understanding of genetic variants in channelopathy-associated epilepsy and to enable a shift to a variant-based classification of epilepsy, while guiding the implementation of precision medicine.