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New center dedicated to kidney disease

May. 29, 2014, 10:21 AM

Kidney disease is the eighth most common cause of death in the United States and affects more than 20 million people, yet many people don’t know they have kidney disease because it often develops very slowly and with minimal symptoms. For this reason, kidney disease is often referred to as a silent killer.

Sometimes an elevated creatinine level discovered in the blood during an annual physical is the first indication of impaired kidney function.

“Kidney disease can have very serious health consequences even aside from the relatively small percentage of patients who end up with end-stage kidney disease and have to be on dialysis or receive a transplant,” said Raymond Harris, M.D., Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Professor of Medicine. “Just having chronic kidney disease markedly increases your risk of having increased morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease.”

Raymond Harris, M.D., directs the Vanderbilt Center for Kidney Disease. (photo by John Russell)

Given that kidney disease is prevalent in Tennessee (more than 8,000 Tennesseans are on dialysis; 2,599 in Middle Tennessee), Harris and Ambra Pozzi, Ph.D., recognized a need to organize Vanderbilt’s vast nephrology network under one organizational umbrella now known as the Vanderbilt Center for Kidney Disease (VCKD). Harris and Pozzi serve as director and associate director of the center, respectively.

The mission of this new center is to perform innovative research and translate discoveries into personalized care to prevent, diagnose and cure kidney disease.

“Our goal for this new center is to pull together all of the clinical and research activities — both basic and translational — and to make them more integrated. Vanderbilt has world-class investigators and clinician educators in nephrology, and it’s an important message to get out,” Harris said.

Pediatric and adult clinical nephrologists who collaborate to medically treat patients with kidney disease, have seen an uptick in patient visits in recent years as the obesity rate continues to climb, Harris said. Obesity leads to type 2 diabetes, which can directly injure the kidneys and is usually associated with hypertension — also a risk factor for chronic kidney disease.

“In addition, there are many different kinds of kidney diseases. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation,” Harris said.

Kidney disease is also associated with complications like high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones and poor nutritional health.

On the research side, scientists are working to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that underlie acute and chronic kidney disease and develop novel therapies.

“Vanderbilt researchers are developing some potential new drugs and therapies for kidney injury and diabetic nephropathy,” Harris said.

Working to bridge the gap between research and treatment, translational research is thriving in a number of important areas including the study of alterations in nutrition, inflammation and metabolism in kidney disease, dialysis and transplant patients; pharmacogenomics to prevent rejection in transplant patients; and health literacy and how patients and physicians interact and communicate.

To visit the Vanderbilt Center for Kidney Disease website, go to

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