UC Davis researchers target kidney disease
By Marissa Lang
Published: Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
A new research program at the University of California, Davis, aims to bring about earlier detection of a potentially devastating kidney disease.
The $350,000 program, funded by federal stimulus money, will allow researchers to examine patients' metabolic output and detect polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary illness also known as PKD.
"The problem with polycystic kidney disease is that even though it's a hereditary disease, there aren't any good blood tests for it," said Dr. Robert Weiss, lead researcher for the PKD project and nephrology professor at the UC Davis Medical Center.
In the United States, about 600,000 people have been diagnosed with PKD, which, according to the National Institute of Health, is the fourth leading cause of kidney failure.
PKD sufferers develop kidney cysts that can eventually lead to kidney failure.
Weiss said about 80 percent of patients will need to be put on dialysis, a treatment intended to artificially replace the kidney's cleansing and regulatory functions.
"Most people don't lose their kidneys completely until they're in their 50s or 60s, but with life expectancy what it is these days, chances are we're going to live that long, and no one wants to be on dialysis for the rest of their life," Weiss said. "The only other option at that point is a transplant."
Though there is currently no cure for PKD, patients can take steps, with early diagnosis, to delay its progression. Generally, this involves diet and lifestyle changes, as well as medications, that help control high blood pressure, a complication of the disease that further damages the kidneys.
Researchers hope that within 10 years they'll be able to detect traces of the disease through metabolic excretions in blood and urine samples, well before disease symptoms begin to set in.
The kidney program is one of six at Davis expected to receive a share of more than $1.6 million from the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Others will enable research into Parkinson's disease therapy techniques, prostate cancer, radiation poisoning, traumatic brain injury and viral infections in airway tissues.
Lars Berglund, associate dean for research at UC Davis Medical Center, said government funding is essential to continuing research.