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Jochen Reiser, MD, PhD, to Be Honored as a Hero in Medicine

CHICAGO – Jochen Reiser, MD, PhD, the Ralph C. Brown, MD, Professor and chairperson of the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush University Medical Center, will be one of three local Heroes in Medicine honored at the second annual Halo Awards on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

The award honors scientists whose work improves people's lives. Reiser is an internationally renowned researcher who has made several seminal discoveries in renal molecular biology and epidemiology that are bringing the prevention of kidney disease closer to reality.

“Dr. Reiser's paradigm-changing studies have stimulated research by many other investigators, including our labs' efforts to develop novel nonactivating integrin receptor blocking drugs to improve the therapy of kidney disease,” said Dr. Barry Coller, physician in chief at Rockefeller University.

"Dr. Reiser's contributions to translational medicine are unquestionable and quite remarkable, but more than that, he lifts up other scientists around him, pushes everyone in the lab to ask the right questions, and always remembers the patients," says Rush PhD candidate Terese Geraghty.

Research identified predictor and likely cause of kidney disease

Everyone has urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) in their cells; Reiser's breakthrough discoveries have involved suPAR, the soluble, circulating type of uPAR. His research has identified suPAR as a predictor, biomarker and likely cause of kidney disease, which affects more than 15 percent of adults in the United States.

SuPAR's effect on the kidneys appears to be comparable to that of cholesterol on the heart — too much of it can cause serious damage and makes existing kidney disease progress faster. There is a lifestyle component with suPAR; smoking, weight gain and recurrent or untreated infections can cause higher levels.

Sustained higher blood levels of suPAR are bad news for the kidney, Reiser’s studies have shown. He has found that suPAR is independently and reliably predictive of decline in kidney function in children as in adults, even though the causes of kidney disease can be quite different in children.

Reiser also discovered that high suPAR can interact with a mutated gene – which is a risk factor for a type of kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) – to trigger FSGS's onset and progression. Up to one-fifth of black people have that gene mutation, and Reiser’s discovery could suggests that suPAR acts as a catalyst with the mutation to cause FSGS.

'Patients keep inspiring me'

“We are just at the beginning of what could be one of the most exciting opportunities for kidney disease diagnosis, prediction and treatment,” Reiser said. “I am so grateful for all my colleagues who work on the topic, the students who are tirelessly curious and the patients who keep inspiring me.”

Reiser, who came to Rush to lead internal medicine in 2012, is a graduate of the Ruprecht Karls University of Heidelberg, Germany. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and a fellowship in nephrology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. In 2017, he became a member of Germany’s National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina.

The Halo Awards are sponsored by Halo, a Chicago company that provides an online platform that connects biotech researchers and possible funders.

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