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Researchers Find Gene Responsible for Kidney Disease Progression in African-Americans

Update Date: Nov 09, 2013 10:51 AM EST

Based on statistics compiled by the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC), researchers have known that African Americans are more likely to die from kidney disease. The numbers reveal that African Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to have end stage renal disease (ESRD), which occurs when the kidneys completely stop working without the help of treatment.

In a new study, researchers identified a gene variant that appears to be responsible for hastening the progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD) toward kidney failure. The researchers reported that this gene variant could be found in 13 to 15 percent of African-Americans.

The research teams from the Chronic Renal Insufficiency Cohort (CRIC) Study and the African American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension (AASL) studied the role of the gene variant called APOL1 and published joint results. Both teams found that APOL1 appeared to be responsible for increasing a CKD patient's likelihood of losing kidney function at twice the rate when compared to CKD patients without the gene. The researchers also found that the gene affected the individual's risk of suffering from kidney failure regardless of blood pressure or diabetes. These two health conditions have been identified as major risk factors for CKD and subsequent kidney failure.

"We now know that the APOL1 gene variant is independently associated with a more aggressive course of disease. This finding tells us that different treatment strategies should be studied, so that we may one day delay or prevent kidney failure among people with this genetic risk," said Paul Kimmel, M.D., director of the Kidney Translational Genetics Program at the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NKUDIC is a service of the NIH's NIDDK.

"Now that the importance of the gene is known, clinicians could potentially genotype - or map the genes - of African-Americans with CKD to assess their risk for disease progression," said Afshin Parsa, M.D., a nephrologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

CKD affects around 20 million American adults with around 400,000 patients relying heavily on dialysis, which treats kidney failure. The researchers hope doctors can map out people's risk of kidney failure earlier so that treatment can be more effective. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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