Prevent Kidney Disease
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By William Couser, M.D.
Prior to the 1960’s kidney disease was almost uniformly fatal and resulted in the death of about 20,000 Americans annually, making it the fourth leading cause of death among young adults. During the past two decades dramatic progress has been made in both treatment and prevention of kidney failure. At the present time about 72,000 patients are alive on kidney dialysis. Over 6,800 patients annually receive kidney transplants with steadily improving success rates. Countless other patients are prevented from developing kidney failure as a result of early diagnosis and effective therapy for several forms of progressive kidney disease. Despite these advances, kidney disease kills 12,000 Americans annually and results in a morbidity of about 4 million days, work loss of 765,000 days, loss of earning power of more than $15 million and medical bills that now exceed $2 billion per year to pay for dialysis and transplantation treatments alone.
Benefits of Research in Laboratory Animals to Patients with Kidney Disease
Virtually all of the recent improvements in the care of patients with kidney disease have resulted from the basic research involving the use of laboratory animals. Examples include:
Future Potential of Kidney Disease Research Involving Laboratory Animals
The list of contributions of animal research to improve care of patients with kidney disease is, of course, much longer. However, of more importance is that major advances in the basic sciences of molecular biology and immunology as well as a better understanding of the physiologic reasons for development of progressive renal disease now promise even greater improvements in the care of patients with kidney disease in the near future. All of these advances require additional animal research before they can be fully utilized to treat human diseases. For example:
In recognition of the importance of basic animal research to future progress in preventing and treating kidney disease, the National Kidney Foundation spends about $700,000 annually, the largest single item in the Foundation budget, to support the training of new investigators qualified to conduct the high quality basic research required for continued progress to be made in the fight against kidney disease.
Ironically, at a time when the benefits of basic research to patients with kidney disease are so apparent, and when the potential for continued progress is more exciting than ever before, the conduct of this research is coming under increasing attack from a variety of groups devoted to the cause of animal rights. The animal rights movement seeks to severely restrict, or halt entirely, research involving any laboratory animals. The efforts of animal rights groups to halt the kind of research which has led to major progress in treating kidney disease has taken several forms. Political pressures have resulted in legislative proposals in the United States Congress and in 22 states to increasingly restrict or even eliminate the use of laboratory animals in research.
Prominent personalities in the entertainment industry have been recruited to this cause and have been successful in focusing substantial media attention on animal rights issues, usually without an accurate or informed presentation of the benefits that derive from such research. Personal attacks have been made directly on the integrity and motivation of researchers carrying out studies in laboratory animals, including investigators studying kidney disease. In extreme cases, animal rights activists have engaged in illegal break-ins of laboratories and animal care facilities and have destroyed important research data and stolen animals involved in such studies. The animal rights movement is growing in size, visibility and effectiveness and commands an estimated $200 to $400 million annually in support of their ultimate goal of preventing all research utilizing laboratory animals. Achievement of these objectives would have precluded the development of such treatments as dialysis and transplantation and would prevent the ultimate application to man of some of the exciting new advances that are being made in the study of kidney disease.
In recognition of the complicated ethical and legal considerations involved in laboratory animal research, as well as the essential nature of this work for future progress in treating kidney disease, the Scientific Advisory Board of the National Kidney Foundation has appointed an Animal Research Committee to examine these issues and to outline the policy of the National Kidney Foundation on animal research. The Committee includes adult and pediatric nephrologists involved in kidney disease research as well as lay volunteers including a transplant patient, lawyer, businessman and clergyman. At its first meeting in New York on September 21, 1985, the Committee was unanimous in endorsing the need for continued responsible animal research in kidney disease and in emphasizing the necessity for the National Kidney Foundation to educate all members and Affiliates regarding the importance of this issue to patients with kidney disease.
The Committee will continue to meet quarterly and will issue a complete report on this subject. It also plans to generate educational material outlining the benefits of both past and future animal research to patients with kidney disease as well as information on what types of research are supported by the National Kidney Foundation, why animals are essential to this research, and how such research supported by the National Kidney Foundation is conducted and regulated. Volunteers and Affiliates who wish to become better informed about this important issue are encouraged to contact: National Kidney Foundation, 30 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016.