By Jitske Jansen
Many people in the general population believe that having a renal disorder is a severe disease but not a life-threatening one, and it can be easily treated with, for instance, dialysis. Obviously, many stages of renal disease exist, but once patients have to be treated with a renal replacement therapy like hemodialysis, the quality of life will become severely impaired.
In general, patients have to be dialyzed three times a week for several hours, and still, only 20% of the kidney function can be replaced. The kidneys play a pivotal role in the homeostasis of many physiological processes in the human body by taking care of the removal of waste products and the retention of vital components such as electrolytes, peptides, and water. Because kidney failure causes many waste products to remain in the body and accumulate, complications like cardiovascular diseases and mental disorders will arise.
The most preferred treatment option is organ transplantation. However, as organ transplants are scarce, many patients have to wait for over four years before a suitable donor organ becomes available. In many cases, a donor organ functions well for several years, but often it will not remain functional forever and, again, dialysis is the only option left. Thus starting the whole cycle of dialysis and waiting for a donor organ again. Hence, I would like to emphasize that we have to raise more awareness for kidney disease!
Disease onset is often complex, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can diminish disease progression or, in some cases, could even prevent the development of renal disorders. It is important that people realize that if they modify their lifestyle, for example by reducing salt intake, the condition of their kidneys will remain more stable upon aging.
Globally, many people participate in World Kidney Day on March 10. To create awareness, hundreds of different activities are being organized worldwide. In the Netherlands, large university medical centers (UMCs) and research institutes unite with the Dutch Kidney Patients Association and the Dutch Kidney Foundation in a national event. As this year’s theme is “Kidney disease and children, act early to prevent it,” (pediatric) nephrologists, kidney researchers, nurses, and kidney patients travel by bus to primary schools near the UMCs, with a playful teaching program. The children (ages 10–12) will learn what the kidneys do and how to take better care of the organ, in addition to some fun experiments including building a kidney. The importance of reducing salt in the diet will also be explored in a playful way, by tasting solutions which contain various salt concentrations in proportion to the amount of salt in, for example, a pizza. Finally, a kidney patient will talk to the children about the impact kidney disease has on his or her life to emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy kidney.
As a kidney researcher, I am involved in the development of innovative renal replacement therapies. As kidneys are highly complex organs, it is a challenge to develop novel platforms to substitute kidney function. Raising more awareness for kidney disease emphasizes the importance of taking care of your kidneys, but it also could stimulate research to develop novel therapeutic avenues to treat renal failure.