NYU College of Dentistry’s Dr. Despina Sitara Awarded $1.4 Million Grant to Determine How Fibroblast Growth Factor-23 Affects Severe Anemia


The research aims to understand the role that FGF-23 plays in anemia associated with chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease and discover new therapy targets.

Dr. Despina Sitara, assistant professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the NYU College of Dentistry
Dr. Despina Sitara, assistant professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the NYU College of Dentistry

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) has awarded Dr. Despina Sitara, assistant professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the NYU College of Dentistry, a three-year, $1.4 million grant to study how an excess of the bone secreted hormone Fibroblast Growth Factor-23 (FGF-23) causes severe anemia. The research aims to understand the role that FGF-23 plays in anemia associated with chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease and discover new therapy targets.

“Our research has previously shown that FGF-23 is an important regulator of phosphate and vitamin D homeostasis and bone mineralization,” said Dr. Sitara, the principal investigator on the study. “In addition, our lab was the first to show that high FGF-23 levels are associated with decreased erythropoiesis, the process of red blood cell formation, while genetic inactivation of FGF-23 leads to increased red blood cell production.”

The researchers’ current hypothesis is that excess FGF-23 impairs erythropoiesis by mechanisms that are mediated by the hormone erythropoietin (Epo), as well as mechanisms that are independent of it, and that by inhibiting FGF-23, they will be able to restore red blood cell production and correct anemia.

“Anemia associated with chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease is currently treated with recombinant erythropoietin. However, rEpo is expensive, and often patients develop resistance to it,” Dr. Sitara explained. “Most importantly, many patients on rEpo therapy develop thrombosis, embolism, and hypertension, so new therapies are urgently needed for the severe anemia associated with these chronic diseases.”

Anemia affects more than 80 percent of patients with chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, and it results from the severely reduced capacity of diseased kidneys to produce erythropoietin, which is essential in stimulating bone marrow to produce red blood cells.

The NYU research is the first to investigate FGF-23 as a cause of common anemia. The team is confident that inhibiting excess FGF-23 could effectively stimulate erythropoiesis, and therefore be used as a new targeted therapy in the treatment of cardio-renal anemia.

The Department of Defense Grant #W81XWH-16-1-0598 is supporting this research. Funded for three years, the grant may be renewed for an additional two years.

About NYU College of Dentistry

Founded in 1865, New York University College of Dentistry is the third oldest and the largest dental school in the US, educating more than 8 percent of all dentists. NYU College of Dentistry has a significant global reach with a highly diverse student body. Visit http://dental.nyu.edu for more.

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