March 2020 News Briefs

Hearst Foundation Funds American Kidney Fund Fellowship

  • In a recent press release, the American Kidney Fund (AKF) announced the receipt of a $100,000 grant from the Hearst Foundation. The grant will support a postdoctoral fellowship in the AKF Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Program. The program helps fund promising young researchers who are working to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes for patients with chronic kidney disease.

The program is designed to drive innovation in postdoctoral nephrology education and attract young scholars to the field of clinical research. The students receive a two-year fellowship that allows them to conduct patient-centric research in prevention and outcomes of kidney disease. Research that focuses on prevention seeks to develop strategies to prevent disease onset or delay disease progression. Outcomes research examines the effectiveness of therapies and interventions.

“The Hearst Foundation is honored to support the American Kidney Fund’s efforts to drive quality and innovation in kidney patient care,” George Irish, eastern director, the Hearst Foundation, said. “AKF’s Clinical Scientist in Nephrology Program has a decades-long track record of important contributions to clinical research in nephrology and we are pleased to fund work that improves the lives of kidney patients and paves the way for better outcomes.”

LaVarne A. Burton, AKF president and CEO, said. “Tomorrow’s innovations in kidney care will come from today’s young researchers, and we have been filling that pipeline for more than 30 years. The Hearst Foundation’s generous gift will enable AKF to continue advancing quality in kidney care, while inspiring a new generation of nephrologists to innovate how we prevent and treat kidney disease.”


Bipartisan Legislation to Extend Immunosuppression Coverage

Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Michael C. Burgess, MD (R-TX) recently introduced H.R. 5534, the Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Patients Act of 2019. According to a press release from Rep, Kind’s office, the bipartisan legislation would improve coverage under Medicare for immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant recipients. The bill was on the agenda of a January meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. The subcommittee meeting included testimony from experts such as Matthew Cooper, MD, director of kidney and pancreas transplantation a the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute and a professor of surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The bill would allow kidney transplant recipients to maintain Medicare Part B coverage for immunosuppressive medications for the lifetime of the transplanted kidney, and save Medicare an estimated $300 million over 10 years, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.


In a press release from Honor the Gift, a national patient-centered coalition of 26 leading kidney and transplant organizations, Dr. Cooper said, “The current Medicare reimbursement system for kidney patients’ post-transplant care makes no sense morally or financially and I’m thrilled so many members of Congress are working hard to see that it’s changed. Since we’ve also received support from the Administration, we’re more hopeful now than ever that we can finally get this legislation passed and do right by kidney recipients and their donors.”

Reps. Kind and Burgess were joined by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Donald McEachin (D-VA), and Jason Smith (R-MO) in cosponsoring the legislation. A similar bill is expected to be introduced by the Senate later this year.


Proposed DHHS Rule to Encourage Living Organ Donation

Late last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced efforts to reduce financial barriers to living organ donation for potential donors.

In a press release from Fresenius Medical Care North America, Bill Vale, chief executive officer, said, “We strongly believe that the best option for all patients with kidney failure is the option to receive a transplant. Reducing financial barriers by reimbursing kidney donors for lost wages, childcare, and other expenses is a positive step forward in supporting those willing to give life back to others, and therefore making living donation a more viable option for many Americans.”

The Fresenius Medical Care Foundation and Donate Life America have formed a partnership to launch a National Donate Life Living Donor Registry and at-home testing kit. Mr. Valle said that the proposed DHHS rule “reinforces the partnership between the Fresenius Medical Care Foundation and Donate Life America to establish the first national, universal living donor registry, and at-home testing kit. We appreciate the efforts of the government to further encourage living donation for those in need of a kidney, providing a better and faster path to transplant for our patients.”


Israeli Researchers Develop Technology to Rejuvenate Kidney Cells

A study published in Cell Reports has reported that it is possible to rejuvenate kidneys and improve their function by using the patient’s stem cells. The study was conducted by Benjamin Dekel, MD, PhD, head of pediatric nephrology and the Pediatric  Stem Cell Research Institute in the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer in Israel.

“This treatment is aimed at the millions of patients who have yet to require dialysis treatment, and focuses on improving stabilizing their renal function in order to avoid the need for dialysis,” Professor Dekel said.

Previous studies have found that the adult kidney can renew itself over time through the activity of colonies of cells that function to replace lose and degenerated cells in the kidney. Professor Dekel and colleagues have developed a technology that allows for extraction of such healthy kidney cells from diseased kidneys. The extracted cells are expanded into large numbers in a laboratory setting and subsequently administered back into the kidney.

To date, the method has been tested on mice, where the cells have shown an ability to generate new renal structures, resulting in improved renal function in treated mice.

Professor Denkel said, “The breakthrough in this technology, which was developed at Sheba Medical Center, is not only in the ability to maintain the kidney renewing cells outside the body, but also in the fact that we are able to multiply them to generate large numbers of cells and make them work properly using the 3D culture. This is important news for patients with chronic kidney disease, which hopefully could benefit from these discoveries in following years. The ability to generate new kidney tissue that could replace the damaged tissue might help millions of patients worldwide who suffer from kidney disease.”


American Kidney Fund Convenes 2020 Research Summit

The American Kidney Fund (AKF) is sponsoring a 2020 summit designed to advance the science of diagnosing the underlying causes of kidney disease and kidney failure. According to a recent press release, the summit will include scientists, patients, academic and industry researchers, and other stakeholders.

Results of studies suggest that in approximately 10% of new cases of chronic kidney disease the cause is unknown. Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed causes of kidney disease have a direct impact on patient care and outcomes. Diabetes and hypertension are the most common causes of kidney disease and kidney failure; however, kidney-related rare diseases and genetic disorders may also contribute to kidney disease. The AKF summit will identify ways to drive innovation in research, diagnosis, and treatment of kidney disease. Initial funding is provided by Sanofi Genzyme.

LaVarne A, Burton, president and CEO of AKF, said, “Kidney disease has become more of a national priority than ever before with the federal government’s Advancing American Kidney Health initiative, which is helping to spur innovation in research and treatment for this disease that affects so many Americans. This new AKF initiative will help to assess and address the gap in patient care that occurs when the underlying cause of kidney disease is not identified.”

“In addition to benefiting from industry experts, the patient voice will be central to this project, which is an opportunity to foster greater collaboration across disciplines in nephrology research with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes. We are grateful to Sanofi Genzyme for signing on as a lead sponsor for this initiative and look forward to welcoming a coalition of additional partners to support this important work,” she added.