I am determined to understand

Guest Post – Conor Underwood – PhD student, Macquarie University

Whilst currently I am an active PKD researcher, my initial encounter with PKD was not an academic one. When I was a child my grandfather was diagnosed with PKD (the adult-onset or “autosomal dominant” form). His story, as I would later learn, was all too common among those with PKD; he underwent years of dialysis therapy and unfortunately passed away from complications relating to high blood pressure and poor heart health.

Fast forward the best part of a decade to the summer of 2012 and I was completing the final year of my undergraduate studies and was in the process of deciding where to undertake medical research placement. It was then that I discovered the work of Professor Jacqueline Phillips who was investigating PKD using a novel rat model of the disease. Much to my delight, the aspects of PKD that Professor Phillips’ team were researching – particularly high blood pressure and heart dysfunction – aligned perfectly with my interests in physiology and neuroscience. Needless to say, I had found the research team that I would spend the summer with.

Since then I have completed a Master’s degree of research with Professor Phillips’ team and have recently initiated a PhD program to continue my research. My research aims to understand the role the brain plays in mediating the deadly link between the cystic kidneys, high blood pressure and heart disease.

People are often puzzled to learn that I am a brain scientist who is researching a disease of the kidneys. The brain however is involved in constant communication with the kidneys and heart through nerves and hormones. In the context of kidney disease, these communication pathways become altered, which can cause high blood pressure, poor heart health and even a worsening of kidney function. I am determined to understand how this cross-talk between the brain, kidneys and heart changes in PKD by ‘listening in’ and manipulating specific neural and hormonal communication pathways in our experimental rat model of the disease.

The ultimate goal of our research is to identify cellular events that have the potential to be targeted therapeutically to increase the quality and quantity of life in those with PKD and other forms of kidney disease.

Although the benefits of experimental medical research take time to manifest in the clinic, I derive a great deal of motivation from the personal stories shared on this blog by those affected by PKD.



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