• Tessa Huffstater

    2020 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Award Recipient
    Tessa Huffstater

    Tessa Huffstater

    2020 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Award Recipient

    How would you sum up your research in one sentence?

    I am investigating the role of cadherin-11 (CDH11) in renal injury, and its potential as a novel therapeutic target for treatment of acute kidney injury (AKI) and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

    Provide a brief overview of the research you will conduct with help from the grant.

    With help from this grant, I will use mouse models of AKI and CKD to evaluate the effects of CDH11 in these distinct disease states. I will use transgenic mice and a functional blocking antibody to CDH11 to determine whether targeting CDH11 is a valid treatment strategy for mice that have AKI and CKD. I will also use in vitro methods to determine the mechanisms by which CDH11 inhibition mitigates renal injury. The research I have proposed will be the first to (1) define the role and determine the mechanism of CDH11 in renal injury and (2) test the efficacy of CDH11 inhibition as a potential drug target for AKI and CKD.

    What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?

    AKI and CKD represent massive unmet clinical needs, as there are virtually no pharmaceutical options available for treatment of renal injury. I hope the results of my research will pave the way for the development of new therapeutic options for patients suffering from kidney disease.

    What are your career goals at the end of the grant period? Five years out? Ten years out?

    Ultimately, I look to apply my training to develop new technologies and make discoveries that will directly impact the way the biomedical community treats kidney injury and fibrotic disease. Upon graduation and completion of this fellowship training, I plan to pursue a postdoctoral research position to continue to diversify my areas of expertise, eventually resulting in leading my own translational therapeutic research group. Five and ten years from now as I advance in my career, I am particularly interested in continuing to develop and validate novel early discovery and pre-clinical models, focused on investigation of therapies to prevent and treat kidney injury and development of fibrosis.

    What inspired you to focus your research in this area?

    In deciding on a research topic, I was struck by the lack of pharmaceutical treatment options for kidney disease, especially given the widespread prevalence of and significant comorbidities associated with AKI and CKD. I saw high potential in kidney research for discoveries that could translate to meaningful benefits for patients. 

    What are the major challenges to beginning a career in kidney research today?

    I think one major challenge is a lack of widespread public awareness about kidney disease, especially compared to some more publicized conditions such as heart disease and cancer. However, given the prevalence of kidney disease, and the substantial impact of kidney function on other diseases, I think there is actually a great need for more kidney researchers.

    What advice would you give to others to encourage them to apply for this grant funding?

    My primary advice would be to seek out excellent mentorship. I have been extremely lucky in my mentorship from Dr. Leslie Gewin, who has helped to integrate me with many other labs in the nephrology department at Vanderbilt. Input and advice from Dr. Gewin, Dr. Harris, and other members of the Vanderbilt nephrology community has been invaluable in the development and progress of my project.

    Something you may not know about me is…

    I often listen to audiobooks while working in the lab, and I usually play them at 2.0x speed. Some recent favorites are "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones, "Invisible Women" by Caroline Criado Perez, and "The Shining" by Stephen King.

    In my free time I like to…

    When I'm not working in the lab or studying kidney disease, my favorite pastimes include horseback riding, hiking with my dog, and reading.