Kidney expert Sharma receives $1.4 million STARS award

Kumar Sharma, M.D.

Kumar Sharma, M.D., professor and chief of nephrology at UT Health San Antonio, was recently awarded a $1.4 million Translational STARs award from The University of Texas System to establish a Center for Renal Precision Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

The Center for Renal Precision Medicine will serve as a major resource for the national and international research communities, bringing together world-class researchers, utilizing cutting-edge technologies, hosting a biorepository of renal tissue, blood and urine specimens for multiple types of analyses, and compiling and maintaining a bank of clinical information to facilitate novel research into associations between kidney diseases and risk factors in patient populations.

The goal of the center’s research is to facilitate the identification of targets for new therapeutics, which will reduce the progression of kidney diseases and the need for dialysis treatment and kidney transplants.

In addition, by combining data from several cutting-edge technologies, including mass spectrometry imaging and genomics data and information from the bio- and clinical information repositories, the center’s researchers will be able to open the door to a precision medicine approach to the treatment of kidney diseases, targeting the proper treatments to each individual.

An internationally renowned expert in kidney disease, Dr. Sharma joined UT Health San Antonio in August from the University of California, San Diego. His research focuses on developing new methods for identifying potential targets for therapeutics to treat kidney disease, including kidney disease caused by diabetes.  Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease in the U.S. and has an increased incidence in the Hispanic population of South Texas.

Dr. Sharma uses the new technology called mass spec imaging to identify changes in the way individual cells are using energy and functioning in different disease states.  This helps researchers understand how the disease is developing and progressing, sheds light on the cellular mechanisms driving the disease, and leads to the identification of new targets for drug development.

UT Health San Antonio is devoting considerable resources toward the support of Dr. Sharma’s laboratory and the growth of kidney-related research. “I appreciate the very solid support from the administrative and leadership side for our programs in our Center for Renal Precision Medicine,” he said.

Dr. Sharma is also the vice chair of research in the Department of Medicine of the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, and he occupies the L. David Hillis, M.D. Endowed Chair in Medicine.  He is the San Antonio principal investigator of the NIH Kidney Precision Medicine Project, which involves multiple institutions nationwide. UT Health San Antonio is the sole institution performing mass spec imaging for the project and will receive an estimated $4 million over five years to perform this core service.

The UT System Board of Regents authorized the Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) program in 2004. Multiple types of STARs awards support enhancement of UT institutions across the state.  Translational STARs awards are for the recruitment and retention of nationally recognized leaders in translational and clinical sciences.

Dr. Sharma’s Translational STARs award is the third for UT Health San Antonio since the translational award category was established in 2012. Other Translational STARs recipients are Tim Huang, Ph.D., professor and chair of molecular medicine, 2012, and Peter Houghton, Ph.D., professor of molecular medicine and director of the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute, 2015.

Three young faculty of UT Health San Antonio were selected to receive Rising STARs awards from the UT System during fiscal 2017. These awards, each for $250,000, are supporting the laboratories of:

— Hye Young Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of cellular & integrative physiology;

— Yogesh Gupta, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry & structural biology and member of the Greehey Institute; and

— Myron Ignatius, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine and Greehey Institute member.

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