Jason Watts, MD, PhD
Jason Watts, MD, PhD
2020 ASN-Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program Recipient
How would you sum up your research in one sentence?
I study how transcription regulation, mediated by RNA polymerase pausing, is coupled to renal physiology.
Provide a brief overview of the research you will conduct with help from the grant.
RNA polymerase transcribes genes with punctuated pauses which are linked to RNA processing and the regulation of gene expression. RNA polymerase pausing regulates stress-responsive genes and signaling targets whose expression levels need to be titrated tightly to maintain cellular functions. The goals of my project are to understand the mechanisms by which nucleic acid sequences and structures regulate RNA polymerase pausing, and how RNA polymerase pausing contributes to the control of renal gene expression; this will include fundamental studies of the interaction between RNA polymerase, chromatin, and the underlying nucleic acid sequences. The knowledge of how sequence elements regulate transcription will allow me to modulate these regulators to alter gene expression in renal cells.
What inspired you to focus your research in this area?
I have been interested in transcription regulation since I started working in research labs as an undergraduate and that interest continued as a graduate student. During my residency, I became keenly aware of our limited understanding of the gene regulatory processes that underlie many common chronic illnesses. Now as I nephrologist I am grateful for the opportunity to study fundamental aspects of gene regulation and apply those insights to understand the transcriptional responses to acute and chronic kidney injury.
What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?
I hope that the basic studies I conduct in the lab will lead to a deeper understanding of gene dysregulation that underlies the diseases that affect our patients. A deep knowledge of underlying transcription mechanisms should lead to novel approaches to alter gene expression as treatment for kidney diseases.
What are your career goals at the end of the grant period? Five years out? Ten years out?
At the end of the grant period, I hope to be running a highly productive investigator and mentor. I hope to have contributed to understanding how cell-cell interactions affect gene transcription. By ten years, as a tenured scientist, my goal is to have an outstanding research program and to be a well-seasoned mentor who is actively working to expand to the pool of nephrologist-scientists and to diversify the scientific workforce.
What has surprised you most about your career?
The importance of connection. Both in the clinic and the lab, the connection with colleagues and mentors can be so instrumental in advancing a research project or patient care.
What are the major challenges facing nephrology research today?
The most significant challenge nephrology research faces today is encouraging nephrology trainees to engage in research.
What advice would you give to others to encourage them to apply for this grant funding?
A career development award through ASN-AMFDP is such a tremendous way to start a career. It is truly an honor to be an ASN-AMFDP awardee. Even if I had not been selected to receive the award, being able to present to the AMFDP Advisory Committee was a such a positive experience that alone would have made the application process worthwhile. I strongly encourage eligible candidates to apply.
Something you may not know about me is…
…that I am quietly obsessed with masonry fireplaces.
In my free time, I like to…
Play with my kids and grill whenever possible.