Every year in British Columbia, a handful of medical residents are selected as nephrology research fellows to be trained as the next generation of experts, expanding the frontiers of kidney research. This includes Malak Ghaddar, who attended medical school in her home country of Lebanon where she completed an internal medicine residency and general nephrology training. She then went on to do a one-year nephrology fellowship in Ottawa, and is now completing a two-year fellowship in Vancouver through July 2024.
Ghaddar is seeking to gain more knowledge on a group of rare kidney diseases, collectively referred to as glomerular diseases. With this condition, the filters of the kidneys are damaged, which can lead to progression to kidney failure needing dialysis. However, the underlying pathophysiology of glomerular diseases is not well understood, as well as their clinical course. This is where Ghaddar’s interest lies – in “knowing the unknown.”
She was first drawn to kidney disease when she was completing rotations at hospitals in Beirut, Lebanon, as part of her medical training.
“I think what first fascinated me was the physiology of the kidneys,” says Ghaddar. “But then when I started working with kidney patients closely, I knew that’s what I wanted – to work with patients with chronic diseases, on dialysis.”
This combined passion for working with people with chronic kidney disease and researching rare diseases eventually brought her to Vancouver, where she is working with Dr. Sean Barbour, a nephrologist at the University of British Columbia who is a leading expert in the field of glomerular disease. Together, the two will be launching a new study to better understand the association between glomerular disease and mortality. The study will be the focus of Ghaddar’s Masters thesis.
"The data on mortality associated with glomerular diseases are scare,” says Ghaddar. “So we aim to calculate the mortality rate among affected patients in BC and to investigate the causes of death as well as its demographic and clinical risk factors".
Studying glomerular disease can be difficult, says Ghaddar, because the disease varies greatly from one patient to another, and each person can respond differently to treatment. But by studying underexplored areas of research, Ghaddar says she hopes to create new and better health policies that will improve the lives of kidney patients, and help advance research in the field. Importantly, she also wants to balance her efforts in research by continuing to work with patients in the clinic as well.
After completing her fellowship in Vancouver, which will benefit BC patients directly and add to the international knowledge base, Ghaddar would like to take what she’s learned back to Lebanon.
“I hope to be able to go back when I finish my fellowship to make improvements there in glomerular disease,” she says.