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Ataga Leading $3 Million AI Study For Predicting Kidney Function Decline in Sickle Cell Patients


Kenneth Ataga, MD, Director of the Center for Sickle Cell Disease at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), was recently awarded $3.2 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for a project that enlists artificial intelligence in the fight against sickle cell disease. Santosh Saraf, MD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a co-PI on the grant.

Individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) often suffer from multiple complications that put them at increased risk of death. One of the most prevalent of these is kidney disease. There are few treatments options available for SCD-related kidney disease, none of which have been rigorously tested to prove long-term benefits.

Intervention to slow kidney function decline and reduce mortality hinges on early identification of SCD patients at high-risk for kidney disease. Dr. Ataga was the senior author of a recent report, published in eJHaem in January 2021, that showed machine learning models are able to predict rapid decline of kidney function in patients with SCD.

With this award, Dr. Ataga is building on the findings to conduct a prospective, multicenter study assessing how well machine learning models can accurately predict progression of chronic kidney disease in individuals with sickle cell anemia.

“We are grateful to the NIH for this award,” he said. “This award will allow us to use machine learning techniques to build a predictive model for progression of chronic kidney disease in adults with SCD. Early identification of these patients is necessary to modify known risk factors and initiate targeted therapies in hopes of increasing their life expectancy.”

Co-investigators on the award include Bob Davis, MD, MPH, founding director of the UTHSC Center for Biomedical Informatics and the University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair in Biomedical Informatics; Fatma Gunturkun, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the UTHSC Center for Biomedical Informatics, Department of Pediatrics; Ugochi Ogu, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and medical director of the Diggs-Kraus Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Regional One Health; and Laila Elsherif, PhD, assistant professor in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and member of the UTHSC Center for Sickle Cell Disease.

Dr. Ataga’s project is titled “Predicting Progression of Chronic Kidney Disease in Sickle Cell Anemia Using Machine Learning Models (PREMIER).” It is funded for five years.