Meet Crystal Gadegbeku, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s New Chair of Kidney Medicine

The nephrologist's plans for the department

Editor’s note: Cleveland Clinic is excited to introduce the Department of Kidney Medicine (known formerly as the Department of Nephrology and Hypertension). “Our new name represents our forward-looking vision — to drive innovation to optimize kidney health for our patients,” says Crystal Gadegbeku, MD, the department’s new chair. 

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What does it take to be a successful department chair? If it’s passion for your specialty, compassion for your patients and refusal to accept the status quo, Crystal Gadegbeku, MD, checks all the boxes.

An ardent activist for increasing government-funded research in kidney diseases, creating awareness of kidney health and kidney diseases and equalizing access to quality care for patients of color, Dr. Gadegbeku does not suffer mediocrity.

As a professor of medicine and Section Chief of Nephrology, Hypertension and Kidney Transplantation at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, she expanded the clinical, research and fellowship programs, was active in National Institutes of Health-funded clinical and translational studies ranging from epidemiologic studies to clinical trials in kidney disease and hypertension and led multi-institutional research collaborations. She served two terms as Chair of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) Policy and Advocacy Committee and is currently an ASN Councilor, as well as a member of the National Kidney Foundation-ASN Task Force on Reassessing the Inclusion of Race in the Diagnosis of Kidney Diseases.

Consult QD spoke with Dr. Gadegbeku about her passions and vision for the Department of Kidney Medicine. 

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Q: What attracted you to Cleveland Clinic?

A: Cleveland Clinic invites innovation. It has the capacity and creativity to do things better. This attracts me, because we are at a point in time where the field of nephrology needs disruptive thought and action for advancement.

Cleveland Clinic is known worldwide, and the Department of Kidney Medicine has consistently been one of the top five programs in the United States. I first became familiar with the department early in my research career, since it was nationally recognized for glomerular filtration rate expertise to support multicenter clinical investigation. The unique environment of the Glickman Institute, positioning medical and surgical expertise in kidney care under one roof, provides a host of opportunities to impact the knowledge base, training and care of patients.

Q: What type of research are you particularly interested in?

A: My early career focused on clinical investigation in vascular biology in kidney disease. Notably, I collaborated with Cleveland Clinic colleagues on landmark trials that have helped advance the current management of hypertension, including the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), and our understanding of kidney disease health disparities, including the African American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension (AASK). My research experience has led me to explore research engagement among diverse populations, particularly among racial and ethnic groups overburdened with kidney diseases. Broad engagement in kidney research is critical to understanding health disparities, and so I feel there is important work yet to be done in this area.

During my career, I have expanded my research involvement to multidisciplinary studies facilitating disease characterization fundamental to developing precision, or personalized, kidney medicine. Therefore, I am so excited to be here at Cleveland Clinic where the department is already engaged in important multidisciplinary NIH-funded research in kidney transplantation (Apol1 Long Term Kidney Transplant Outcomes Consortium, or APOLLO), nephrotic syndrome (Nephrotic Syndrome Study Network, or NEPTUNE), chronic kidney disease (Kidney Precision Medicine Project, or KPMP, and the Cleveland Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) with KPMP study) and acute kidney injury (Caring for Outpatients after Acute Kidney Injury, or COPE-AKI). Additionally, the department was recently awarded an institutional NIH grant to support a Cleveland-based research network to train the next generation of kidney, urology and hematology scientists. My goal in leading the department is to build on this success to create and sustain a hub of scientific interaction that helps to drive the field forward.

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Q: You have been a vocal advocate for kidney health policy. Will you talk a little about what is happening in this area?

A: In my leadership roles in the American Society of Nephrology, I have had the opportunity to work with many stakeholders to inform elected officials and engage in the development of new kidney health policy. The executive order, Advancing American Kidney Health, established in 2019, has three goals: reducing the risk of kidney failure; increasing the access to and quality of person-centered treatments; and increasing access to kidney transplantation. This timely initiative involves promoting patient education, enhancing research, developing new models of care and supporting and streamlining innovation. This is very good news for the kidney community. I am especially committed to focusing efforts within this national program to address health disparities and, more broadly, systemic racism in healthcare as people of color are significantly overburdened with kidney disease and risk factors leading to kidney diseases.

Q: Now that you are here, what is your vision for the department?

A: Nephrology is emerging from being an under-recognized specialty with minimal innovation in care over the last decades to a field with novel discoveries on the horizon, emerging patient-centered management approaches and new opportunities for subspecialization to best treat and prevent kidney diseases. I believe the department, with its regional to global presence, long history of excellence in kidney care and medical education and expanding research portfolio, is well-positioned to drive transformation in the field. The unique environment of the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute provides an ideal platform for innovation and collaboration on all fronts. My vision is to cultivate strategic and synergistic growth that serves as a model for future care. Also, I envision strengthening interinstitutional interactions toward better patient-centered coordinated care, multidisciplinary educational exposure and cutting-edge collaborative investigation.

Q: Where will you begin?

A: I have already begun. Working with Dr. Eric Klein, Chair of the Glickman Institute, and many others, we are redefining goals, exploring new initiatives and seizing opportunities to create a department that comprehensively delivers kidney medicine to patients in the best ways possible. That means looking at every aspect of what we do and envisioning how we can do it better. The American Association of Kidney Patients—the oldest and largest independent kidney patient advocacy organization—has labeled this decade The Decade of the KidneyTM , and I believe they are right. Inspired by patients and their journeys, I aim to bring together resources at Cleveland Clinic to make their hopes a reality.