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Karen Coschigano, Ph.D.

Ramiro Malgor, Ph.D.

OU-COM kidney damage study receives NIH boost

Grant funds student position to assist Coschigano-Malgor research team

By Matt Bates

Nov. 04, 2009

Karen Coschigano, Ph.D., and Ramiro Malgor, Ph.D., both assistant professors of biomedical sciences, were awarded a supplemental grant of $16,101 in July for their work on “Cross-talk between growth hormone and inflammation pathways in kidney damage,” a research project that began last year with a $221,250 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This grant has afforded senior microbiology major Katie Schreiber the opportunity of assisting their research, which focuses on growth hormone (GH) receptors in kidneys and their possible link to kidney inflammation. Ultimately, this work could lead to the development of gene manipulation techniques that limit or even halt kidney damage associated with diabetes. 

Coschigano looks at the presence of macrophages, tiny cells that invade the kidney, and whether these macrophages are involved in “cross-talk,” or interaction with inflammatory molecules that may be regulated by GH receptors. Meanwhile, Malgor approaches the topic from a protein perspective, looking at the specific proteins involved with kidney damage that interact with GH receptors.  

To determine the relationship between GH receptors and cell death, the researchers use “knockout mice,” or dwarf mice whose smaller size results from the fact that their GH receptors have been permanently blocked. This effectively shuts down the “information pathway” for growth hormones, distinguishing these knockout mice from normal “control” mice.

This is where Schreiber comes in. Using real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which allows her to compare
levels of RNA expression in kidney cells, Schreiber compares the level
of kidney damage in different groups of mice. So far the research has
found higher levels of kidney damage in the regular diabetic mice than in the diabetic knock-out mice, suggesting that GH, which cannot interact with receptors in the knock-out mice, are involved in the pathway leading to kidney damage. 

The summer supplement grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, funds student research assistant positions for two summers. This allowed Coschigano to bring Schreiber into the lab this year to assist her study with Malgor and two other student researchers. And, for Schreiber, the fruits of this grant don’t end there.

According to Schreiber, who continues to work in Coschigano’s lab, this experience has helped her decide what to do with her future. She previously had not considered a career related to health care, but she is now planning to enroll in a one-year licensing program in medical technology to train to work in hospital laboratories.

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