NCRC tenant launches program to fight chronic kidney disease

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó A founding tenant of the N.C. Research Campus has launched a program to fight chronic kidney disease, a condition that has reached epidemic proportions and costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Laboratory Corporation of America, or LabCorp, announced Wednesday the CKD Education and Treatment Program, a collaboration with the nonprofit National Kidney Foundation.
Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, is a silent killer that affects 26 million Americans but often goes undetected until the patient needs dialysis or a transplant.
The disease can be diagnosed early through simple tests.
LithoLink, a subsidiary of Burlington-based LabCorp, developed the new program and will offer it to physicians and other healthcare providers nationwide by the end of 2008 in an effort to better educate them about the disease and its prevention and treatment.
“This is a disease that is not well-understood, not well-treated,” said David King, president of LabCorp.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.,who helped override a veto by President George Bush this year to pass Medicare legislation that includes money to combat the disease, attended the announcement at the Research Campus.
LithoLink will offer the program free to healthcare providers, said Brian Coe, chief executive officer.
Doctors with patients suffering from kidney disease can access the program by ordering tests through LithoLink, as opposed to another clinical lab, Coe said.
In exchange, LithoLink will provide clinical guidance to physicians that is specific to each patient.
LithoLink will track patients, comparing their progress against benchmarks, Coe said. Doctors will receive quarterly reports from LithoLink about their patients’ status.
The program also offers sophisticated tools to help doctors make treatment decisions, Coe said.
LithoLink will directly support patients as well, helping them better understand their doctors’ recommendations, he said.
Many patients with chronic kidney disease don’t follow instructions. If a doctor recommends a low-salt diet, a patient may continue eating fast food.
“They say they don’t use salt, but they don’t know that there is salt at McDonald’s,” Coe said.
Some 15.5 million Americans have lost up to three-quarters of their kidney function, but 90 percent don’t even know it, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
About 25 percent will die within five years if not treated.
Chronic kidney disease has become a major economic burden on the federal government because most dialysis treatment in America is paid for by Medicare. Roughly 400,000 people on dialysis consume approximately 6 percent of the Medicare budget.
LabCorp believes the new program can save lives and health care dollars, King said.
The program should boost early detection and encourage primary care providers and specialists to communicate, Coe said.
A panel of experts created the program based in part on recommendations from the National Kidney Foundation.
“There won’t be enough nephrologists to care for all the people on dialysis in 10 years,” said Leanne Skipper, chief executive officer for the National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina. “Prevention is the only option.”
Skipper came to Kannapolis directly from a summer camp in Flat Rock for kids with kidney disease.
She told the large audience filled with local elected officials and N.C. Research Campus employees about a 15-year-old camper who’s already had two kidney transplants but may not live until he’s 30.
Although anyone at any age can develop chronic kidney disease, people with diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease are most at risk.
Obesity also contributes to chronic kidney disease. If caught early, the disease can be managed and kidney damage can be slowed or stopped.
The N.C. Research Campus is a 350-acre $1.5 billion biotechnology hub under construction in downtown Kannapolis. Founder David Murdock, owner of Dole Food Co. and Castle & Cooke, is building the campus and leasing it to universities and private companies like LabCorp.

Possible CKD trouble signs
Symptoms of chronic kidney disease:
1. Fatigue, weakness
2. Difficult, painful urination
3. Foamy urine
4. Dark urine
5. Increased need to urinate
6. Puffy eyes
7. Swollen hands, face, abdomen, ankles, feet
8. Increased thirst