Kidney transplantation increases longevity and quality of life and reduces medical costs for patients with end-stage kidney disease, but 70% of patients will remain on dialysis due to a shortage of transplantable kidneys and many will die while on the waiting list (~40,000/year). While kidneys from living donors have better long-term outcomes, regardless of tissue match, kidneys from deceased donors are more readily available. Thus, optimizing long-term graft function continues to be a challenge, especially with kidneys from deceased donors—again, accounting for 70% of total transplants. Now newly funded biomedical research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science (UAMS) involves an investigation into a novel way to improve the long-term outcomes of patients who receive kidneys from deceased donors. Specifically, Nirmala Parajuli, DVM, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology received a five-year, National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in the amount of $2.46 million to study an investigational drug therapy that can potentially reduce damage to donated kidneys during cold storage. This is an important research pathway as 70% of all kidney transplants are made possible by deceased donors, and overall long-term outcomes are most often poor.
The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Parajuli, shared that, overall, approximately 100,000 patients presently await kidney transplants and “…many of them will die while they are waiting.” The UAMS researcher continued, “My goal is to reduce the kidney injury caused by cold storage and increase the pool of healthy kidneys available to the people who need them.”
During the preclinical research phase—a range of activities, including testing in animals, prior to any human testing—Dr. Parajuli has investigated drugs mixed in the solution used to store kidneys from rats and donated human kidneys that were rejected for transplantation. The Arkansas-based investigator seeks to use these drugs to actually block the molecular pathways that serve a key function in kidney injury during storage; and this can ultimately boost long-term kidney survival.
Supporting Groups & Departments at UAMS
Here at UAMS, the Research Academy Scholar provides researchers myriad support to help develop grant submissions. In this case, these services were of great assistance helping Dr. Parajuli in putting together the grant submission. The UAMS Research Academy’s Mentored Grant-Writing program is supported by the UAMS Division of Research and Innovation, the Translational Institute, and the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The Translational Research Institute is supported by a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
University of Arkansas School for Medical Science (UAMS)
UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report named UAMS Medical Center the state’s Best Hospital; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide; and named six areas as high performing — COPD, colon cancer surgery, heart failure, hip replacement, knee replacement and lung cancer surgery. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and four dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health.
Parajuli is backed by a team that includes research technicians Li Jiang, BS, and Sorena Lo, BS. They work in UAMS’ Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the College of Medicine, a professional home to 19 faculty, 8 research faculty, 15 graduate students, and 3 postdoctoral fellows.
UAMS Division of Research and Innovation
The Division of Research Innovation has steadily grown to a major research force in the southeastern United States. Most recently, UAMS secured $125.5 million in total research funding with another $43.2 million in NIH (FY20) and $40.6 million other federal funding (FY20). The Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) has secured $23.8 million in total research funding (FY20) while total Veterans’ Administration (VA) funding in 2020 was $8.8 million.
On the BioVentures front, UAMS researchers make impacts with 37 invention disclosures in 2020 along with 20 new patent applications; researchers/inventors there secured five (5) U.S. patents actually granted last year. The BioVentures group has produced a total of 42 spinoff startup companies and, notably, 26 are still in operation today. This is an impressive survival rate as the actual survival of startups is known to be low: the failure rate ranges from 70% to 90%.
Nirmala Parajuli, DVM, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Medicine, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Arkansas School for Medical Science (UAMS)