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“A thorough understanding of how the nephron and its specialized cell types form, function, and respond to disease is essential to our ability to develop new therapies and regenerative strategies.” – Dr. Lori O’Brien

The UNC Kidney Center has welcomed Dr. Lori O’Brien, a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, to advance the mission of North Carolina’s top-ranked nephrology program.

Dr. O’Brien was recently named a Maren Scholar, an endowed position supported by the Thomas H. Maren Foundation for an emerging scientist to pursue kidney research—from laboratory bench to patient-oriented investigation—that will advance disease treatment for patients.

“Dr. O’Brien brings a wealth of expertise in kidney development and podocyte biology that will greatly enhance our research efforts,” said Dr. Gerald Hladik, Chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension in UNC’s Department of Medicine.

“A deeper understanding of kidney progenitor and podocyte biology is vital as we work to advance a growing body of research that will ultimately improve the lives of individuals suffering from kidney disorders.”

Like an adventurer on a journey of discovery, Dr. O’Brien will pursue answers to both translational and basic research questions, with a special interest in podocytes, a highly specialized cell type of the nephron filter. These cells have a unique and elaborate architecture with interdigitating processes that help form the filtration barrier of the kidney. Since a vast majority of renal diseases initiate with the dysfunction or loss of podocytes that can lead to nephron degeneration and eventually kidney failure, understanding how they develop and change with disease will advance the generation of new therapies.

“It’s an honor to be appointed to the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and be able to contribute to the rapidly advancing research at UNC’s Kidney Center,” said Dr. O’Brien. “I’m excited about developing my research program and the vast implications it will have for improving patient care.”

Dr. O’Brien is also committed to training the next generation of scientists and clinicians. “My work is just getting started and there are exciting times ahead. I’m looking forward to supporting and mentoring others, to help students find and follow their own specialty passions,” said Dr. O’Brien.

Before joining UNC, Dr. O’Brien was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology at the University of Southern California. This was preceded by fellowships in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. O’Brien was born and raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She received both her Ph.D. and B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. O’Brien looks forward to discovering more about her new North Carolina home. “I can officially say that I’ve lived in the North, East, West and now South. North Carolina is a beautiful place and after years of snow and cold, I am definitely enjoying the milder weather.”