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April 10, 2014

Johns Hopkins Researcher Honored for Diabetes Study Identifying Risk Variants Related to Race

The Clinical Research Forum has presented W.H. Linda Kao with one of the Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Awards for her study identifying risk variants related to race and the progression of chronic kidney disease. Kao, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and her fellow awardees were selected based on research projects that “benefit the health and wellbeing of the general public.”

Professor Lawrence J. Appel, MD, MPH, Kao’s colleague at the School and co-investigator on the research study recognized by the forum, accepted the award on her behalf at the Clinical Research Foundation’s annual meeting April 9 in Washington, D.C.

Genetic factors in African Americans with chronic kidney disease (CKD) put them at a greater risk for end-stage renal disease (ESRD) compared to white Americans. Kao and other researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland contributed data from two separate studies: the African American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension (AASK) and the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort Study (CRIC).

Both studies identified high risk genetic variants in the APOL1 gene speed up kidney disease progression and substantially increase the risk of developing kidney failure, compared to whites and blacks with low risk variants, with or without diabetes. Approximately 1 in 10 blacks possess the high risk variants, though it is very uncommon in whites.

"Even though our studies found that African Americans with two copies of the high-risk APOL1 variants were at higher risk for kidney disease progression, about 40% of the African Americans from the AASK study who also carried the high-risk variants had not progressed at the time of the study,” Kao stated.  “This finding highlights the importance of identifying factors that may modify the effect of the APOL1 risk variants."

An estimated 20 million American adults have CKD, and over 400,000 depend on dialysis to treat kidney failure.

The CRIC study was established in 2001 by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to improve the understanding of CKD and related cardiovascular diseases. The CRIC study has enrolled nearly 4,000 people with CKD, with another 1,500 expected to join the study over the next five years.

The AASK is the largest and longest study of African Americans with CKD. Study participants were initially recruited in 1995 for the AASK Clinical Trial.

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Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health contact: Susan Sperry at