The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us

University of Iowa News Release

June 20, 2003

NIH Renews Major Kidney Research Grant To UI

A major grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will help University of Iowa researchers continue their efforts to understand the defects that cause some forms of hypertension, or high blood pressure. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) within the NIH awarded the $5.6 million, five-year grant on June 1 to the designated George M. O'Brien Kidney Research Center in the Division of Nephrology within the UI department of internal medicine.

The NIDDK's O'Brien Kidney Research Centers Program helps institutions bring together investigators from different disciplines to study kidney disease and disorders. The UI received its first such grant in 1997. That award provided $4.2 million over six years.

"The idea behind this research is that once we understand how the normal control system works, we can then understand how it becomes defective in some forms of high blood pressure. Then we can design better, more specific therapies for high blood pressure," said John Stokes, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine, director of the UI Division of Nephrology and director of the UI's O'Brien Kidney Research Center.

The grant funds three projects that collectively deal with how the kidney regulates the excretion of sodium. Stokes, who also is a staff physician and researcher at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, leads one of the projects. The two other projects are led by Peter Snyder, M.D., UI associate professor of internal medicine and physiology, and Baoli Yang, M.D., Ph.D., UI assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

Stokes said the amount of salt that gets excreted from the body involves a highly regulated process. If the amount of salt a person takes in is not removed from the body, then the imbalance can cause high blood pressure, a major cause of strokes and heart attacks.

"Salt consists of sodium and chloride, the major ions in the blood and in our body's fluids, so our blood pressure is largely controlled by how the kidney retains or excretes sodium and chloride," he said. "It turns out that the sodium regulation part of it is very highly regulated. We know that some genetic diseases cause high blood pressure because of defects in one of the molecules that regulates how the kidney excretes sodium."

All three projects will focus on how different molecules interact to affect a specialized channel called the epithelial sodium (Na) channel. Stokes said the channel essentially is responsible for "fine-tuning" how much sodium comes out in a person's urine.

The NIDDK grant also has a new funding feature that supports pilot studies by two UI investigators. One project, led by Roxanne Walder, Ph.D., research scientist in pediatrics, investigates a protein involved in kidney function. The other project, led by Thomas Griffith, Ph.D., assistant professor of urology, focuses on an approach to treating kidney cancer.

For more information about the UI Division of Nephrology, visit online at

For more information about the NIDDK or the O'Brien Research Centers program, visit The program honors George O'Brien, a congressman who had a strong interest in kidney diseases.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Media: Becky Soglin (writer), 319-335-6660,

PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: A photograph of Dr. John Stokes is available for downloading at