Kidney Disease Clinical Trials

Kidney disease develops when the blood vessels in the kidneys become damaged, causing a buildup of extra water and waste in the body. When these problems continue for a long period of time, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is diagnosed.1 Currently available CKD treatments focus on treating the underlying health conditions that drive the disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and high blood sugar. If CKD progresses to renal failure (kidney failure), the main treatment options are dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Before new therapies are given to the general public, they must first go through clinical trials that prove they’re safe and effective. These studies take several months to years to complete, and they require healthy volunteers and people with CKD to try an investigative medication or procedure.

Current Clinical Trials for Chronic Kidney Disease

Each year, doctors and researchers look for new and better ways to diagnose and treat diseases. Clinical trials for CKD focus on investigative drugs and those already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating other diseases. The drugs and diagnostic tools discussed below are just a fraction of the current CKD clinical trials.

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New Therapies for Chronic Kidney Disease

While current CKD treatments used in the clinic focus on addressing underlying health issues, new therapies being studied in clinical trials have taken a different approach. Doctors and researchers are now focusing their efforts on addressing the consequences of kidney damage  and preparing people for kidney transplants.

Clinical trials are also focusing more on cell-based therapy rather than medications to address these problems. Currently, there is no cure for CKD — while a kidney transplant from a healthy donor can help you live longer, you may need another at some point in your lifetime. You also need to take medications to stop your body from rejecting the kidney.2

Now researchers are investigating cell therapies that help slow and may even reverse the decline in kidney function in diabetic people with CKD. Recent studies are investigating stem cells and immune cells for their role in kidney repair.3,4

Clinical trials are also investigating therapies that help reduce levels of antibodies involved in organ transplant rejection. These specially engineered proteins block antibodies made by your immune system, preventing it from attacking the newly transplanted kidney. These therapies are promising in making transplants possible for more people to treat CKD.5

Previously Approved Medications

Doctors and researchers also take advantage of therapies previously approved by the FDA to treat other diseases. Before these therapies can be approved for treating CKD, they must undergo clinical trials to make sure they’re safe and effective in this disease.

Clinical trials for previously approved medications are also focusing on targeting the consequences of kidney damage. Studies show that expression of certain proteins can contribute to the progression of kidney diseases. Blocking these proteins with targeted therapies has been found to reduce disease. For example, one trial is investigating the drug baricitinib (Olumiant®) for treating CKD associated with high blood pressure. This medication is currently approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia areata.6,7

CKD can also cause kidney scarring (fibrosis), which reduces kidney function over time. By targeting this scarring at the root cause, doctors and researchers hope to prevent the progression of kidney disease to renal failure. One study is investigating pirfenidone (Esbriet®), which is approved for treating lung scarring (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis).8,9

Prescribed Diets to Treat Chronic Kidney Disease

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In addition to medication, diets are a powerful tool used to manage blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.10 Limiting your salt intake can also help lower your blood pressure.11

Studies are also focusing on how diets can be used to help control high blood pressure and even improve kidney function in people with CKD. By closely monitoring participants’ progress on the diets, doctors and researchers can learn more about what to recommend to their CKD patients.

While the NHLBI recommends a diet high in fruits and vegetables, the exact effects on kidney function in people with CKD are unknown. Many people with CKD also have abnormal potassium and phosphorus levels, which can increase with certain diets. Studies are investigating how dietary changes affect these levels.12,13

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is commonly recommended to people with high blood pressure.14 This diet focuses on incorporating foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It also recommends limiting foods that are high in sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. Doctors and researchers continue to study how effective this diet is in people with CKD, specifically Black Americans.15,16

Enrolling in Kidney Disease Clinical Trials

If you’re interested in joining a clinical trial, the first step is to determine which trials you’re eligible for. Investigators running these studies set up specific requirements you must meet in order to participate. They may also select criteria that make you ineligible for a study — these are typically chosen to prevent people from experiencing unwanted side effects or making their condition worse. Studies will always provide their criteria for joining.

Whether you choose to join a clinical trial to take advantage of a new treatment, or if you’re interested in advancing science, the choice should always be based on what’s best for you and your health.

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