Understanding and developing better treatments for glomerular disease is the life’s work of this RI-MUHC researcher

Dr. Andrey Cybulsky, who has led a long and distinguished career in kidney research, is this year’s recipient of The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Medal for Research Excellence. The Medal is awarded annually to a Canadian resident who is recognized nationally and/or internationally for career accomplishment in kidney research.

Dr. Cybulsky is a Professor of Medicine at McGill University, a senior scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), and a senior physician in the Department of Medicine at the McGill University Health Centre. From 1998 until 2019, he was also the Director of the Nephrology Division at McGill University.

As a clinician-scientist, Dr. Cybulsky has made significant discoveries about the biology of podocytes. These specialized cells support the structure and function of the kidney’s glomeruli—filtration units in nephrons (the kidney’s million tiny filters). Podocytes help regulate blood filtration and are the target of injury in glomerular diseases.

Much of his work has focused on the mechanisms of injury in glomerular diseases, and specifically how podocytes are injured. The goal is to understand better both the routes leading to injury and the processes activated to reduce injury or protect injured cells.

“Over the years, we have characterized several cellular pathways in podocytes,” said Dr. Cybulsky. “These have included protein kinases, stress pathways, and pathways involving lipid metabolism. We study how these pathways collectively maintain the functions of podocytes and how they are dysregulated in disease.”

“Dr. Cybulsky’s body of research is an essential resource for the exploration of new methods to tackle kidney disease.”

— Elizabeth Myles, National Executive Director of The Kidney Foundation of Canada

“Dr. Cybulsky’s body of research is an essential resource for the exploration of new methods to tackle kidney disease. The Medal for Research Excellence provides us with a great opportunity to highlight significant achievement and a lifetime of commitment,” said Elizabeth Myles, National Executive Director of The Kidney Foundation of Canada. “Basic research is important to gain an overall understanding of kidney function and disease, and it adds to the building blocks on which the field improves the lives of patients through informing changes to clinical care. The Foundation remains committed to supporting all forms of kidney research and strives to help build excellence in the kidney field.”

Dr. Rita Suri, Director of Nephrology and Associate Professor at McGill University, describes Dr. Cybulsky as “an accomplished and passionate researcher whose work on podocyte biology is recognized internationally and has laid the foundation for many other researchers in this field.” She adds, “Dr. Cybulsky is regarded as role model and has distinguished himself as a gifted and highly dedicated mentor.”

Supporting others early on in their careers is another of Dr. Cybulsky’s priorities, and to date, he has mentored more than 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have won prestigious awards and gone on to build their own successful careers in nephrology basic science research.

He credits early-career guidance from Dr. David Salant at Boston University for instilling a deep appreciation of the importance of such support. The experience underscored how “good mentorship during one’s training gets you interested and started,” Dr. Cybulsky said.

In addition, through his publications, which include 90 original peer-reviewed articles and 30 review papers, as well as through his involvement in organizing international meetings such as the 12th International Podocyte Conference in 2018, he has contributed substantially to the sharing of knowledge in his field, Dr. Suri said.

“I am very honoured to receive such an award,” Dr. Cybulsky said. “It makes me feel that people in the kidney community believe that the work that we have done is significant and valuable.”

He hopes the recognition will raise awareness about his and other researchers’ efforts to improve the understanding and develop better treatments for glomerular disease, and stir the interest of younger researchers in exploring this important field.