June 15, 2021
Canada Research Chair committed to improving care for children and youth with chronic disease
Kidneys are the body’s scrub brush. They remove the impurities from your blood to keep you alive. In some children, this filtration system doesn’t work, and kids suffer a lifelong illness enduring steroid treatments, dialysis or waiting for a kidney transplant.
Paediatrician and clinician scientist Dr. Susan Samuel, MD, has been awarded a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair to expand treatments for paediatric kidney disease using a precision medicine approach and improve the transition to adult care for children with chronic disease.
“It is truly exciting to see this powerhouse researcher awarded this Chair," says Dr. Jon Meddings, dean of the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “Dr. Samuel is an outstanding paediatric nephrologist, clinician-scientist, epidemiologist, and health services researcher with a track record of leading national multi-centre studies resulting in improved health care for children with chronic diseases.”
“I am deeply honoured to receive this CRC Chair,” says Samuel. “We still don’t know the root cause of several kidney diseases and evidence to guide treatment strategies is poor. This support will allow us to implement evidence-based treatments, better understand what causes kidney disease, and design interventions to improve transition to adult care.”
Samuel has experienced the family stress of kidney disease at a personal level — her own father required a kidney transplant after years of dialysis. As a kidney specialist and epidemiologist, Samuel saw a great need to specialize in kidney disease in children, a field that was not well articulated with advanced data or research studies.
She became the first scientist in Canada to launch a national study on kidney disorders in children, establishing a database and providing a comprehensive picture of children with nephrotic syndrome. The Canadian Childhood Nephrotic Syndrome Project unites 12 centres to study effective treatments for this condition.
She leads the Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program (CCHCSP), a national training program, which brings together 17 Canadian child health research centres to provide specialized support for clinicians engaged in research. As a member of the International Pediatric Nephrology Association, she contributes to clinical practice recommendations for the treatment of childhood kidney disease. And as a member of the international steering committee for the Standardized Outcomes in Nephrology (SONG) Kids group, Samuel works to develop a core outcome set for trials in children with chronic kidney disease.
In her own research, Samuel works with colleagues at McGill University to study the immune changes in blood that lead to nephrotic syndrome. Prednisone, a steroid discovered 70 years ago, is the most effective therapy, but causes growth delay, poor bone health and obesity in children. The team is working to understand how steroids and other drugs work to suppress nephrotic syndrome and is seeking to identify biomarkers, a body’s molecular signatures, to assist with predicting treatment response and relapses.
Samuel is also aiming to improve the transitions between paediatric and adult care. Developmentally appropriate transitions are critically important to maintain long-term health. Her focus is to provide the best interventions to support young people during this vulnerable time.
“My work has shown that paediatric transplant patients are at high risk of kidney failure after transfer to adult care, and that emerging adults with kidney failure have high rates of avoidable hospitalizations. We want to ensure that every young person receives the right care, at the right time, in the right place, and within the right model of care,” she says. Samuel’s team implemented the very first Alberta-wide trial testing a patient navigator to improve experiences for young people. That trial will be complete in a year and the results will inform future strategies.
“This Canada Research Chair will allow me to work with colleagues across multiple faculties and co-supervise trainees in complementary fields. I’ve had incredible support so far and I’m so excited to contribute to the advancement of research and scholarship at the University of Calgary.”
Child Health and Wellness
The University of Calgary is driving science and innovation to transform the health and well-being of children and families. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, top scientists across the campus are partnering with Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and our community to create a better future for children through research.
Susan Samuel is a professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the O’Brien Institute of Public Health.