Emeritus Professor of Medicine
University of Utah
WU Nephrology Fellow, 1985-1987
WU Nephrology Faculty, 1987-1990
Donald Kohan, MD, PhD, says the mentorship of faculty in the Division of Nephrology at Washington University School of Medicine while he was a fellow here was instrumental in guiding and pushing him into a research career that has led to international recognition and pioneering work into the role of endothelin receptor antagonists in kidney health and disease.
“I remember Saulo Klahr asking me whether I wanted to be a bricklayer or an architect; in essence, he encouraged me to think outside of the box and go into a research career,” says Dr.
Kohan. “He remained a constant supporter of my career until he passed away in 2010.”
Dr. Kohan joined the faculty in 1987, right after completing his fellowship under the supervision of George Schreiner. Another important early mentor was Eric Simon. Within a year, Dr. Kohan received a biomedical research grant from the National Institutes of Health — the first of many — to study interleukin-1 regulation of renal tubule transport processes. “As I continued my investigations, my basic research examined the physiology and pathophysiology of endothelin in the kidney in health and disease,” he explains. “I translated this work into clinical trials examining endothelin receptor antagonists in diabetic and non-diabetic chronic kidney disease.”
Just this year, the FDA granted accelerated approval of an endothelin receptor antagonist and angiotensin receptor blocker (Sparsentan) for the treatment of patients with IgA nephropathy. “This is the first approval by any agency in the world for a drug targeting the endothelin system in chronic kidney disease,” says Dr. Kohan.
His foundational research was conducted at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where he and his wife, Sherrie (Perkins), MD, PhD, also a renowned physician scientist, have lived since 1990. She served as chief of hematopathology and president of the American Hematopathology Society as well as CEO of ARUP Laboratories. He rose to become chief
of Utah’s Division of Nephrology from 1999 to 2009 and served as the Margaret A. Amundsen Endowed Professor of Medicine and the Dialysis Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Nephrology. He is the recipient of the prestigious Robert W. Berliner Award for distinguished lifetime achievement in renal physiological research from the American Physiological Society and the Tomoh Masaki Award, a biannual scientific award from the Endothelin International Advisory Board.
The two stepped away from their leadership roles in 2021 and have dedicated much of their time to travel. “We live close to seven ski resorts and a national forest with endless hiking
trails,” notes Dr. Kohan. “We love skiing, hiking and scuba diving, the last of which we’ve done
around the world, including at the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve also hiked the Inca Trail to Machu
Pichu and recently came back from Thailand and Cambodia. I’d say we’ve visited 40+ countries so far.”
He delights in maintaining connections with colleagues. Lifelong friendships with Brad Rovin
and Kevin Harris as well as Katie Hering-Smith and Adrianna Dusso, among many, continue from his days at WashU. “Relationships I made then continued to help me long after I left,” he says fondly. “The incredible range of expertise and talent among WashU faculty was critical in helping me to develop a research plan and focus. I am grateful for my time there.”