The University Kidney Research Organization (UKRO) held its ninth annual gala at The Beverly Hilton on March 9, with over 300 attendees. KABC-TV (Channel 7) Eyewitness News anchor and living kidney donor Phillip Palmer served as Master of Ceremonies. The benefit raised funds for the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“Kidneys are particularly susceptible to environmental factors because one-fifth of the blood circulates through the kidneys in any unit time. This is more than any other organ,” said Vito Campese, MD, professor of medicine at the Keck School, UKRO co-founder and chair of its Medical Scientific Advisory Board. “As a consequence, the kidneys are more exposed to poisons or immunologic attacks than other organs. In the US, 1 in 7 adults has chronic kidney disease.”

Current research projects at the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center include research to invent an artificial transplantable kidney that could prevent the need for dialysis in patients with failing kidneys. UKRO’s goal is to raise $30 million to create a major kidney research institute in Los Angeles that will bring together a wider collaboration among multiple disciplines, including stem cells, biochemistry and biophysics, to save lives and make outcomes more positive and productive for people suffering from kidney diseases.

“This year we have started a new initiative to provide Pilot and Feasibility Grants for innovative research projects that will bring in new investigators to the kidney research field and fund novel research directions toward therapies or cures for kidney disease,” said Kenneth Hallows, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Keck School, director of the USC/UKRO Kidney Research Center and chief of the division of nephrology and hypertension at the Keck School.

At the gala, UKRO also honored several science and healthcare leaders. Laura Perin, PhD, assistant professor of research urology, and Kevin V. Lemley, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics (clinical scholar), received the award for Extraordinary Achievement in Advancing the Frontiers of Renal Research. Syed Arif Rizvi, MD, president of California Kidney Specialists and medical director of La Puente Dialysis Center, received the Award for Excellence in Clinical Care. The Family of Joyce and Stanley Black received the Spirit of Life Award for their extraordinary philanthropy throughout the community and passionate commitment to kidney disease and organ donation awareness. The honorees were celebrated with tribute films created by Ammiel Najar and Lewis Kleinberg, UKRO board members and USC School of Cinematic Arts alumni.

“So many people, young and old, suffer from some form of kidney disease,” said Ken Kleinberg, President of UKRO. “We must make research against kidney disease a national medical priority.”

— Eric Weintraub