SMHS Professor Dominic Raj recognized as an innovator in nephrology.
By Ashley Rizzardo
As Paul T. Conway received treatment as a kidney transplant patient at the George Washington University, he and physician Dominic Raj, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Kidney Diseases and Hypertension at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, conceived of a unique event that would bring patients, providers and industry leaders together to promote and educate on innovations in the arena of chronic kidney disease.
GW joined the American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP), for which Mr. Conway serves as chair of policy and global affairs and immediate past president, in co-hosting the Inaugural Global Innovations in Patient-Centered Kidney Care Summit. The event was hosted May 21–23 at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium.
Summit organizers sought to put policy insight in the context of cutting edge science and innovative practical solutions, identify challenges, discuss solutions and identify the research needed to inform and evaluate policies to improve kidney health, Dr. Raj said.
In welcoming remarks to the summit participants, Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, noted that Washington, D.C., has the highest rate of chronic kidney disease in the United States.
“The need to educate about this problem is urgent,” he said. “The need to do research and find new and novel ways to prevent and treat kidney disease is critical to the wellness of our neighbors.”
There are more than 815 million people with chronic kidney disease around the world, said Dr. Raj, who received recognition from AAKP as part of the internationally-syndicated AAKP Innovator Series, which highlights professionals in the field of nephrology committed to making a difference, improving care and changing the status quo.
He said that “everyone agrees that there is a global epidemic. We want kidney health for everyone, but unfortunately the demand for services outpaces the available resources.”
Dr. Raj said decreased resources allotted to kidney research has led to a pause in innovation in nephrology. He called for action from policymakers.
Over the three-day conference, 35 presentations were delivered on topics ranging from emerging transformative initiatives to scientific explorations in nephrology to evolutions in transplantation. Presenters were invited from countries including Sweden, Canada and Brazil, in addition to those from the United States.
“We talk about innovation and about kidney policy and what this means for new timely solutions for patients,” Mr. Conway said. “It’s easy to think of innovation as simply private sector investors and then it stops there. What we would suggest is the entire ecosystem for developing innovation for timely solutions for patients is much broader than that.”
That broad ecosystem was laid out by presenters like Harold Feldman and Eric Litjens.
Feldman, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, presented on disrupting the progression of kidney disease.
Litjens, senior director of global commercial operations and head of patient advocacy and global marketing at Hansa Biofarma, a leading Swedish company developing immunomodulatory enzymes for organ transplants and acute autoimmune diseases, discussed his company’s efforts to address the unmet needs of transplants in highly sensitized patients, those who have high levels of antigens that reduce the likelihood of successful transplants.
Robert Star, director of the Division of Kidney, Urologic and Hematologic Diseases at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, highlighted the pathway to precision medicine in nephrology through the Kidney Precision Medicine Project.
Barry Freedman, chief of nephrology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, described his team’s discovery and the role of the APOL1 gene in predisposing African Americans to kidney disease.
Aliza Thompson, clinical team leader in the Division of Cardiovascular and Renal Products in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, discussed the key role of the FDA in accelerating the approval and delivery of innovative discoveries to the patients.
The conference was live-streamed worldwide to an audience of thousands of patients, caregivers and medical professionals from more than 30 countries, including South Korea, China, Egypt, Netherlands, Nigeria, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ireland and the United Kingdom.