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Claire Martin, PhD

Supervisor:  Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras
Award: KRESCENT Post-Doctoral Fellowship
Institution: Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto
Year: 2019-2022

Study title: Proteomic mapping of the kidney's blood filtration barrier.

Claire Martin will be completing her post-doctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital/University of Toronto. She will work to establish a proteomics pipeline tailored to studying the kidney, with the goal of identifying roles for previously unknown molecules in renal disease.
The kidney’s principal utility is to filter the blood, a critical task carried out by specialized cells called “podocytes”. Disruption of these cells is commonly observed in the various forms of kidney disease; however, the mechanics that lead to podocyte disorder remain poorly understood. As a doctoral student in the lab of Dr. Nina Jones at the University of Guelph, she has worked to understand the molecular basis of podocyte dysfunction by studying several key proteins required for podocyte stability. She now seeks to advance this knowledge as a postdoctoral fellow by leveraging rapidly advancing technologies within the proteomics field.
Lay Summary
Chronic kidney disease constitutes a major health issue in Canada and worldwide. Nearly 3 million Canadians are living with this disease and its incidence is predicted to continue to rise coincident with rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension, all which greatly increase the likelihood of disease. Currently, there is no cure for kidney disease and treatments focus instead on limiting its progression. However, the early stages of disease are often asymptomatic and nearly 3/10 newly diagnosed individuals in Canada each year are already in renal failure. Dialysis and transplantation remain the only forms of treatment for advanced kidney disease, approaches that are associated with considerable morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs. Understanding the changes that contribute to disease in the kidney is imperative to our ability to diagnose it at early stages and to develop new therapies. However, the molecular and cellular basis of kidney disease remains poorly understood.
The kidney’s principal function is to filter the blood. The kidney’s sorting mechanism is carried out by specialized cells called “podocytes”. These cells associate with one another to form a sieve-like structure that is capable of distinguishing between essential blood components that the body must retain from wastes, which are eliminated as urine. During disease, the organization of podocyte filters becomes disrupted, which results in the loss of blood proteins into the urine, the clinical hallmark of chronic kidney disease. Grasping a firm understanding of mechanism by which these podocyte sieves become dysfunctional provides an avenue for us to better understand the development and progression of kidney disease.
Proteins represent the building blocks of all cellular functions. They act as structural elements, molecular machines, sensors and transporters. They rely on interactions with each other to perform their functions. Therefore, in order to understand the mechanisms by which the kidney’s blood filter functions, we must understand how the proteins communicate with each other. Leveraging a cutting-edge molecular technique called proteomics, Dr. Martin will first generate a molecular ‘map’ of protein-protein interactions within the kidney’s filtration sieve. These investigations are poised to reveal the involvement of previously undetectable molecules in podocyte function and how these proteins coordinate to facilitate blood filtration. Ultimately, these findings will move us closer towards grasping the molecular basis of kidney function and dysfunction, representing a new frontier towards the treatment of kidney disease.