Nephrology Program Earns Grant Renewal


Sudhir Shah, left to right, Mandeep Singh, Nithya Mariappan and Didier Portilla, all physicians in the UAMS Department of Internal Medicine Division of Nephrology, stand in one of the nephrology laboratories the division uses. Shah also is division director, and Portilla is a professor of internal medicine.

Oct. 25, 2012 | A strong nephrology training program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) recently became even stronger with the renewal of a five-year grant of $650,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases awarded the grant in the pathophysiology of renal disease to Didier Portilla, M.D., and his colleagues in the Department of Internal Medicine Division of Nephrology. The grant goes toward recruitment and training of highly competitive M.D. and Ph.D. postdoctoral fellows as they pursue an academic career in kidney research.

UAMS first received the grant in 2006 under the leadership of Sudhir V. Shah, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Nephrology. Shah’s program sponsored two M.D. trainees for one year of research and two years of clinical work. For the renewal, Portilla restructured the program to support five M.D., or Ph.D. trainees for two-year research tracks, with one year of clinical. The change from one year of research to two years brought the program in line with similar training fellowships at other universities. The Division of Nephrology has a total of ten fellows including those supported by the NIH training grant.

“I think Dr. Didier Portilla has made some substantive and thoughtful changes in the training grant,” said Sudhir V. Shah, M.D., professor of internal medicine and director of the Division of Nephrology in the Department of Internal Medicine.

“With the training grant, we’re competing with the Harvards, the Yales and the Stanfords,” Shah said. “Funding for training grants has become so tight that you almost have to get a perfect score in order to get a grant. For Dr. Portilla to have written this grant, which is competitive with other institutions, and to have received almost a perfect score, is quite an achievement.”

Since assuming leadership of the grant in 2009, Portilla, a professor of internal medicine, has expanded the training faculty from 16 to 25 and established multidepartment collaborations that promote research in four new areas: the genetics of kidney disease, vascular biology, transplant biology and bone marrow-derive stem cell therapy.

Shah said the grant provides benefits in addition to the money. “If you get the faculty from other departments engaged in the training grant — pharmacology, biochemistry, and many other departments — this then allows us to interact and participate in multidisciplinary research than we might otherwise.”

Other benefits are that institutions that are recipients of the NIH training grant typically attract a higher caliber of fellowship applicants. It also will work with the strengths of other NIH grants that UAMS has received, such as the Clinical and Translational Science Award, he said.

Portilla noted, “By engaging basic science faculty and attracting highly qualified PhDs to the training program, we expect to increase the pool of researchers who are engaged in nephrology research and have basic scientists address research questions with clinical relevance.”

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