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Harmandeep Kaur, PhD

Supervisor: Dr. Andrew Advani
Award: KRESCENT Post-Doctoral Fellowship
Institution: St-Michael’s Hospital
Year: 2020-2023

Study title: Reshaping epigenetics to improve outcomes after acute kidney injury

Dr. Harmandeep Kaur will complete her post-doctoral fellowship under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Advani at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science and Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. Dr. Kaur’s project is focused on discovering a new treatment for kidney damage that can occur quickly when a person is ill for another reason and that can lead to permanent kidney disease. Dr. Kaur obtained her doctorate degree from J.W. Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany in 2016 and continued to work as a post-doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research, Germany until 2018. Her work in Germany was focused on studying how scarring in the heart can lead to heart disease and on discovering new treatment targets in blood vessels. In 2018, Dr. Kaur joined PGIMER, Chandigarh, India before moving to Toronto in August 2019. During her KRESCENT post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. Kaur will be exploring a new treatment opportunity for a condition called acute kidney injury. 

Lay Summary
Kidneys normally do the job of filtering blood and getting rid of waste products and extra salt and water into the urine. Sometimes problems can happen to the kidneys very quickly and stop the kidneys working properly. For example, if a person becomes ill for another reason or if there is a blockage that stops urine leaving the kidneys. When kidney damage occurs suddenly this is called acute kidney injury, or AKI. One in five people who are admitted to hospital develop AKI and AKI is responsible for some two million deaths each year. People used to think that if a person developed AKI their kidney function would return completely to normal when they recovered. But we now know that that is not the case. AKI increases the risk of long-term kidney problems. It also increases the risk of permanent long-term kidney failure and it shortens life expectancy. We urgently need new treatments to improve recovery after AKI and prevent the development of longer-term problems. 

Dr. Kaur project will explore a new treatment opportunity for AKI that works by affecting processes that go on in cells called “epigenetics”. The term epigenetics refers to changes in the way that genes carry the genetic code to make proteins (the workhorses of the cell) that do not involve changes in the typical DNA code. She will perform experiments in cells grown in Petri dishes and she will treat mice with AKI with a drug that changes epigenetic processes. She will also see if mice that are missing particular ‘epigenetic enzymes’ from their kidney cells are protected from AKI. Finally, to relate her findings to human disease, Dr. Kaur will look to see if these epigenetic processes are also disturbed in kidney tissue from patients with AKI