Co-sponsored by Amgen Australia and hosted by Sydney Health Partners’ Renal Stream, the competition was open to nephrology researchers and PhD students in the early stages of their career from throughout NSW.

Audiences tuned in virtually on the evening of August 4 to hear from finalists in each category, and had the opportunity to hear about a range of research opportunities taking place in NSW from Sydney Health Partners and Maridulu Budyari Gumal (SPHERE) – whose members collectively make up the majority of Health Districts in the Sydney basin.

Dr Julian Singer, a research nephrologist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney, was named winner in the Basic Science category, for his research into the effect of a high-fibre diet in kidney transplants using a mouse model.

“There’s increasing evidence that the bacteria in the gut affects immune responses, so our research looked at this effect in organ transplants, and how the gut microbiome might influence how well an organ donation is accepted,” Dr Singer said.

Kidney transplants are considered the best option for patients with end-stage kidney disease; however patients require life-long immune-supressing medication to prevent rejection of the new organ – which comes with its own risks, including cancer and infection.

The study used allografts – where a foreign kidney is transplant into the mouse ‘host’ – as a model for kidney transplantation in humans.

“We found that, while allografts caused a significant shift in the gut microbiome, the mice who were fed a high fibre diet were largely protected against this effect and survived longer,” said Dr Singer. “This suggests that diet, and the gut microbiome, do have an effect on transplant acceptance.”

The effect of dietary fibre on kidney transplant outcomes is now being studied in a clinical trial at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

In the Clinical Research category, the prize was awarded to Brenda Maria Rosales, a PhD student at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney. Her study identified a pool of possible missed opportunities for organ donations, using linked administrative health data to verify suspected melanomas in potential donors.

“Before organ donation occurs, donors are evaluated for cancer risk, and if cancer is suspected the donation is unlikely to take place, leaving those in need of an organ transplant waiting for the next opportunity,” said Ms Rosales.

“However, often donor coordinators rely on the family and friends of the potential donor for medical history, sometimes without access to medical records. This can make it difficult to verify whether the type of cancer reported by family and friends is what was really diagnosed.”

Ms Rosales’ study used linked data between potential organ donor cancer evaluations, collected by the Organ and Tissue Donation Service, and the Central Cancer Registry, which reported on cancers diagnosed between 1976 and 2013, to confirm whether the melanoma that had been identified during the evaluation process was truly present.

She found that 12 out of the 25 potential donors were declined for melanoma risk alone, despite there being no linked verified records of a melanoma, suggesting they could have safety donated.

There are currently 1,600 people on the waiting list for organ donations in Australia, and 12,000 people on dialysis, who could benefit from a kidney transplant.

“Not only does our study show that there are potentially more donations possible than are currently taking place, it also demonstrates the possibility that this kind of data linkage could happen in real-time, with the potential to improve donation rates in practice,” said Ms Rosales.

The competition marked the first event for the SHP Renal Stream’s new generation of leaders. Founding Professors Carol Pollock, Jeremy Chapman and Vlado Perkovic handed the reins over to Associate

Professor Germaine Wong, Dr Erin Vaughan and Dr Emma O’Lone in February this year. 

“We want to be able to create a space where early career researchers and PhD students can come together to network, building connections, research collaborations and support structures that can last their whole career,” said Dr O’Lone.  

“We’ve been so pleased to have been able to create a virtual space where early career renal researchers could still come together, even during a pandemic.”

Both finalists received $1,500 which they can put towards attendance at a nephrology conference of their choosing, while the two runners up in each category each received $500 to support their research.

Clinical Research Winner

Brenda Rosales: Verification of suspected melanomas in deceased organ donor referrals: a population-based cohort study using data-linkage, 2010-2015

Clinical Research Runners Up

Akshay Athavale: Quantifying the Impact of Acute and Chronic Kidney Dysfunction on the Effect of Idarucizumab

Nicole De La Mata: Sex differences in mortality among people with end-stage kidney disease: Do women always live longer?

Basic Science Winner

Julian Singer: High-Fibre Diet Reduces Transplant-Associated Dysbiosis And Improves   Renal Allograft Survival in A Murine Model of Kidney Allograft Rejection

Basic Science Runners Up

Jennifer Li: Gasdermin-D Mutation Is Protective Against Renal Ischemia Reperfusion Injury

Yan Li: High fiber derived microbial metabolites protect against maladaptive repair in AKI through G-protein coupled receptors and HDAC inhibition