Philanthropy from transplant recipients was key stepping stone in securing national grants for Sarah Panzer, MD

Sarah Panzer, MD, works in her lab

For Sarah Panzer, MD, assistant professor, Nephrology, the generosity of transplant recipients was the key stepping stone in receiving two national grants for her research that seeks a novel therapeutic for chronic kidney transplant rejection.

Dr. Panzer was wrapping up a study when she was selected to receive the Hope Meets Gratitude award, an annual gift from grateful UW Health kidney transplant patients that supports transplant research in the UW Departments of Medicine and Surgery. This gift allowed Dr. Panzer to expand her study by asking additional questions and develop preliminary data needed to apply for larger grants.

“In research, you get answers, but you also get more questions. The Hope Meets Gratitude award led us down this pathway of asking what could we do even better?” she says.

With this additional data, she secured the American Society of Nephrology John Merrill Grant in Transplantation, a highly competitive grant awarded to junior researchers transitioning to an independent research program. While this national award is offered annually, it is only awarded to one individual nationally if the project is of high enough quality in a priority topic area.

“I was surprised and very happy that we received this award, in part because they are so highly competitive, and I think it speaks to the quality of research being done through Nephrology and Transplant at UW,” Dr. Panzer says.

Not only did she receive this award, but the Hope Meets Gratitude award also led to receiving a National Institutes of Health (NIH) K23 grant that she is currently working on, “Improving long-term allograft survival in kidney transplantation by targeting B cell survival cytokines.”

These national-level awards are now helping Dr. Panzer improve the overall survival of kidney transplants by finding a therapeutic that can treat antibody-mediated transplant rejection, which accounts for around 50% of kidney transplant rejections and failures.

“Many patients face transplant rejection, which is a barrier to the length of time they get out of the transplant,” she says.

Currently, there are no FDA-approved therapeutics to treat chronic rejection.

Her work is investigating the role that B cell protein products, cytokines, have in transplant pathology, and whether they are a risk factor for kidney transplant failure in patients. B cell survival cytokines have been demonstrated to exacerbate disease activity and represent a viable therapeutic target in many B cell-mediated diseases. If this is found to be the case in kidney transplants, future clinical studies can test therapeutics targeted at B cell survival cytokines, and hopefully, lead to an increase in the survival of transplants.

Ultimately, she hopes to bring this work that began with a local gift, from the lab to the bedside.

“The Hope Meets Gratitude award was this key stepping stone from a smaller project to growing this into a bigger question that led to a lot of success in terms of grant applications. This was a big outcome and was instrumental in the progression of our research,” Dr. Panzer says.

Banner: Sarah Panzer, MD, works in her lab. Credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine