The March of Dimes has awarded a $150,000 grant to Rebecca Wingert, assistant professor in Department of Biological Sciences for her research on the genetic causes of congenital kidney defects. The grant, the Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award, is a prestigious and highly competitive one intended for young scientists at the beginning of their independent careers.
Although knowledge of kidney development has improved significantly over the past fifty years, science still lacks a complete understanding of the genetic causes of congenital abnormalities of the kidney and urinary tract, referred to as CAKUT. These malformations, which occur in as many as 1 in 500 live births, cause renal failure and premature death in infants and young children. Research is complicated by the broad spectrum of phenotypes and by the complexity of the genetic factors that underlie them. To unravel the knot, it is necessary to identify the genes that direct kidney formation, as well as the derangements in genetic pathways that trigger defects.
Wingert's research focuses on the process by which different cell types are specified during the formation of nephrons, the functional units of the kidneys. Defects in nephron patterning have been linked to malformation of renal tissue, as well as to subtler deficiencies in kidney function that manifest in childhood. Her laboratory works with zebrafish, whose nephron development is similar to that of humans, in order to study the development of a nephron cell type known as the podocyte. By isolating and studying zebrafish with podocyte defects, the lab aims to identify the genes that are essential for podocyte development and to improve our understanding of CAKUT pathogenesis.
Originally published by biology.nd.edu on February 07, 2012.at