Get to Know our Scientists – Dr. Krisztian Stadler

What do flying airplanes, playing keyboards, and researching kidney disease all have in common? Dr. Krisztian Stadler. 

Dr. Stadler’s focus in the lab revolves around studying diabetic kidney disease – a major life-threatening complication that affects approximately 30% of those with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Researching kidney disease is important because there is currently no cure for it and diabetics could eventually end up with end-stage renal disease if left untreated. Typically half of the patients with end-stage renal disease who require dialysis or transplantation have diabetes mellitus, a disease that prevents the body from properly using energy from food. This costs the United States an estimated $10 billion per year. To make matters worse, these numbers are on the rise due to the increasing number of Type 2 diabetics.

Most scientists study the cure for kidney disease, but Dr. Stadler is focusing on how to prevent it altogether – a concept which helped him get his first research grant from the National Institutes of Health. For the next four years, Dr. Stadler and his team will be studying proximal tubular cells, their transport process in the kidney, and the mitochondria they use for energy. In a healthy individual, mitochondria gets its energy most efficiently from lipids and fatty acids, but diabetics have a faulty lipid metabolism, which could be a major factor in kidney disease. If the mitochondria cannot get energy, the proximal tubular cells cannot conduct the transport process.

“This will ultimately affect these tubular cells and their energy process, leading to the dysfunction or death of these cells and kidney disease. Our grant project basically focuses on discovering new mechanisms leading to the loss of these tubular cells,” said Dr. Stadler.

But between Dr. Stadler’s cell research and grant writing, work life can become so detail-oriented that he needs to reset from time to time. And what better way to reset then to use the other side of his brain to de-stress.

“I know many researchers who play music or do some form of art,” said Dr. Stadler. “I like to play the keyboards to use the artistic side of my brain, so it gives the science side a break. Flying planes gives me the same feeling. When I’m up in the air and looking at the Mississippi River for example, I’m able to clear my mind for a while. Sometimes my best ideas come when I fly.”

As a young boy, Stadler grew up by the airport in Hungary and was fascinated to watch the planes take off and land. He always knew that one day he would have his pilot’s license and be able to fly on a whim, which is exactly what he does about once a week from the Hammond airport. Now, with over 250 hours of flight experience, he’s even thinking of becoming an instructor.

“People ask me why I’m a scientist. It can be such a struggle sometimes. But when you look at these cells and you’re the first one to see something new and unexpected, that process of discovery and the curiosity behind it is what drives me. And maybe it’s my curious brain that also drives the music, the flying, and the seeking out new things all the time.”

Through his years of work and dedication to researching diabetes and kidney disease, Dr. Stadler has proven that when it comes to his road of discovery, the sky is the limit.

The Mitochondrial Overload and Proximal Tubular Cell Atrophy study is supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant 1R01DK115749.