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Emerging Research: Early Warning Found for Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is a silent killer, responsible for about 47,000 deaths per year. Treating the disease is difficult because most people don’t learn they even have it until it has advanced into a serious state. But thanks to researchers at Rush, a new predictor of the condition has been found: suPAR, a common blood protein that shows rising levels years before kidney disease develops.

“SuPAR promises to do for kidney disease what cholesterol has done for cardiovascular disease,” said Jochen Reiser, MD, PhD, chairperson of the Department of Internal Medicine and Ralph C. Brown, MD, Professor of Medicine at Rush.

Reiser is senior author of an article published in the November 2015 online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that reports the findings about suPAR, which stands for soluble urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor.

Researchers found suPAR levels can reliably predict developing chronic kidney disease as much as five years before the condition causes measureable damage — earlier than any other test now available.

Such interventions could make an enormous impact on tens of millions of people in the U.S. with conditions that prevent kidneys from properly filtering waste from the blood stream.

More than 15 percent of people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease, and approximately 4 percent require dialysis and/or a kidney transplant due to kidney failure. In 2012 Medicare alone spent $87 billion on medical care provided to patients with chronic and end-stage kidney disease.

Reiser believes that in the near future, high suPAR levels probably will inform physician-patient conversations about preventing kidney disease, just as high cholesterol levels signal the need for lifestyle changes and protective drugs to avert heart attacks and strokes.

“One characteristic of suPAR is that it is modifiable to some degree by lifestyle,” Reiser said. “Also, if suPAR is high, we can be more aggressive with medications to control high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which contribute to chronic kidney disease. Eventually we would want to test how direct modulation of suPAR will change the development or course of renal disease.”

Read more about the kidney research online.

To learn more about supporting kidney disease research at Rush, please contact Martha Nosal at (312) 942-5467 or martha_nosal@rush.edu.

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