Kidney Failure & Transplants

Saving the Kidneys: A Step Toward Understanding Drug-Induced Kidney Failure in Transplant Patients

More than 25,000 people receive life-saving organ transplants in the U.S. each year. To prevent rejection, however, patients must take immunosuppressing drugs for the rest of their lives. Virtually all transplant recipients will suffer some degree of kidney damage from their medication and up to 10 percent will lose all kidney function and require dialysis or even a kidney transplant.

The main class of anti-rejection drugs inhibit the enzyme calcineurin. Tragically, calcineurin inhibitors also cause a range of side effects, including nephrotoxicity. Understanding the biological processes that contribute to nephrotoxicity and, perhaps, how to prevent it is at the core of research by Jennifer Gooch, PhD, Department of Nephrology.

Gooch, who has her doctorate in molecular medicine, holds joint appointments at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Emory's Department of Medicine. She uses a combination of molecular biology techniques and models of disease, development, and genetic manipulation to identify mechanisms that contribute to cell- and tissue-specific processes.


Research in Gooch's laboratory is focused on the role of calcineurin, a calcium-dependent enzyme, in normal and disease processes in the kidney. To better understand how the enzyme works, she developed a new technique that uses fluorescence to measure calcineurin activity. "One of the best features is that activity can be standardized so that any lab can produce comparable data," Gooch says. "The technique is also a great tool for bench research and we hope that a kit will soon be available."

Gooch is working with the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) to commercialize her assay. "We think Jennifer's work is broadly applicable to the transplant medicine field and should be able to benefit many patients, which is the ultimate aim of any basic research," says Sat Balachander, OTT licensing associate.

Her lab is now investigating how calcineurin activity changes in transplant patients over time. In collaboration with the Emory Transplant Center, Gooch is using the new procedure her lab developed to measure calcineurin activity in transplant patients. If successful, measurement of calcineurin activity may help physicians better monitor anti-rejection medications and avoid kidney damage.

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