July 17, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Patient-oriented” kidney research begins locally with formation of new research institute
Kidney Research Institute one of the first in U.S. dedicated solely to kidney disease research studies
(SEATTLE) – “Never has there been an era with so much scientific data. But how can, how should, those data be applied to the treatment of a disease that afflicts more than 26 million Americans?” wonders Jonathan Himmelfarb, MD.
Himmelfarb arrived in Seattle last month to begin the direction of innovative research studies conducted by a new research institute, the Kidney Research Institute (KRI) – a partnership between Northwest Kidney Centers and the University of Washington Division of Nephrology. Himmelfarb hopes the results from multiple upcoming studies will translate ultimately to better care, a higher quality of life and lower mortality rates for those suffering from kidney disease.
|Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb|
“Data have confirmed a very high rate of kidney disease in our society, and that there are a multitude of problems that kidney patients face, including an uncommonly high mortality rate,” Himmelfarb said. “It is time to aggressively seek new approaches to identifying kidney disease early and preventing its progression, discover better predictors of kidney-disease associated risk, find new, effective treatments for advanced kidney disease through relevant research, and then translate these discoveries back into direct and improved care for the patient.”
More than twenty-seven percent of Medicare’s budget is spent on patients who have kidney disease. It is, Himmelfarb believes, an under-appreciated public health issue in our time. He is particularly concerned with the connection between kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. “Kidney patients are far more likely to die prematurely from cardiovascular-related illness rather than developing end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation. If end-stage kidney disease does develop, then the cardiovascular risks are further multiplied.”
Himmelfarb finds the statistic alarming: A 20-year-old with end-stage kidney disease on dialysis assumes the same cardiovascular risk of an 80 to 85-year-old without kidney disease. Moreover, in 1972, there were an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 kidney patients on dialysis nationwide. Today, 450,000 people suffer from kidney failure. By 2030, more than two million Americans will need dialysis, unless better preventative treatments can be found.
Therefore, many of the KRI studies will include interdisciplinary teams of physicians, scientists and others specializing in cardiology, vascular disease, nutrition and other disciplines, as well as nephrology. Research will be conducted in conjunction with the University of Washington, Harborview Medical Center and Northwest Kidney Centers.
Active planning for several studies is already under way at the new Institute. One study centers on improving vascular tolerance to dialysis; the second contrasts the effects of two common cardiovascular medications in patients with kidney disease. Though studies conducted at the KRI may include pharmaceuticals or medical technology, the basis for the research must be novel. “We are aiming to do truly fundamental studies that can make a big difference for kidney disease patients. Accepting grants from pharmaceutical companies or the medical industry for trials or research regarding medications, for example, that are similar to those already available will not be our focus,” Himmelfarb stated.
Himmelfarb notes that a truly significant discovery that positively affected those who suffer from kidney disease was the Scribner shunt, developed in 1960 by Seattle physician Dr. Belding Scribner, allowing patients worldwide to receive lifesaving dialysis on a long-term basis. Dr. Scribner is credited with establishing the field of outpatient dialysis. His invention spurred the foundation of Northwest Kidney Centers, the world's first out-of-hospital dialysis program, which today thrives as one of the nation's premier treatment centers.
Currently, the KRI is located in the nephrology department at Harborview Medical Center. When the Ninth & Jefferson medical-office building at Harborview is completed in 2009, the Institute will move into that space and will include labs and offices for physicians and researchers.
In addition to his directorship of the Kidney Research Institute, Dr. Himmelfarb has been appointed a professor in the University of Washington Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, and is the first holder of the Joseph W. Eschbach Endowed Chair in Kidney Research at UW. Before coming to Seattle, Dr. Himmelfarb served as the Chief of the Maine Medical Center Nephrology Division, Director of the kidney transplant program and as Associate Chair of the Department of Medicine for research. He serves on the editorial boards for Kidney International and the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. According to Dr. John Stivelman, chief medical officer at Northwest Kidney Centers, “Dr. Himmelfarb is recognized internationally for his insightful, original and timely scientific research.”
Northwest Kidney Centers has committed $3 million so far to the establishment of the KRI, to fulfill the Northwest Kidney Centers’ mission of advancing knowledge through research. As well, in September 2007, Northwest Kidney Centers and Kirin-Amgen announced an honorary gift of $1.5 million to the University of Washington Division of Nephrology to create the Joseph W. Eschbach Endowed Chair in Kidney Research. The gift recognizes Dr. Eschbach’s groundbreaking research in anemia, his work to improve kidney dialysis and his remarkable advancements in the field of nephrology.