NIH-Funded Program Trains Future Academic Pediatric Nephrologists

In early 2019, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) renewed the prestigious T32 Fellowship Training Grant in Nephrology at Cincinnati Children’s. The five-year renewal continued the recognition of Cincinnati Children’s as a national leader in training the next generation of academic pediatric nephrologists.

“This honor has been conferred only to a small handful of programs across the country, and is reflective of our belief that fostering the next generation of leaders in pediatric nephrology is one of our core missions,” says Prasad Devarajan, MD, director of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at Cincinnati Children’s. “The combination of a large faculty, a substantial institutional commitment of resources, and extramural support has made this training program possible.”

Devarajan has served as the T32 Training Program’s director and principal investigator since 2002. Under his leadership, the division also established an NIH P50 Center of Excellence in Nephrology to pursue the major focus areas of research that form the scientific basis of the training program. These span the basic, translational and clinical research aspects of kidney development, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease and hypertension.

The Pediatric Nephrology fellowship considers about 15 applicants each year, choosing two to enter training. After one year of intense clinical exposure, candidates compete for the two-year T32 research training program. The program provides 80% protected research time and funds laboratory supplies and conference participation. Fellows work with primary research mentors across the institution, including 14 NIH-funded, actively collaborating investigators with extensive experience in fellow training and mentoring. They also complete a degree-granting master’s program in research at the University of Cincinnati (UC), funded by the T32 program.

For current fellow Hillarey Stone, DO, the program is providing invaluable opportunities. “My main work focuses on understanding the epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to complex glomerular diseases, such as nephrotic syndrome,” says Stone. “I am collaborating with some incredible researchers in the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Autoimmune Genomics and Etiology, who study how transcription factors are involved in the development of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Using their novel computer algorithms and other bioinformatic tools, we have identified transcription factors that seem to play a role in the pathogenesis of nephrotic syndrome.”

As part of her fellowship experience, Stone is pursuing a master’s degree in clinical and translational research at UC. “The courses and the support I am getting from my mentors are giving me the foundation I need to become an independent researcher,” she says. “I am very thankful to have the support of the T32 training grant, as the experience is truly helping to launch my research career.”

The T32 program has trained over 90 fellows thus far, with more than 90% remaining in academic pediatric nephrology and several occupying leadership positions across the country.

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