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New hope for kidney disease sufferers

21st March 2006

Scientists have discovered that a widely prescribed drug could also treat kidney disease.

Researchers from the University of California claim in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science that rapamycin, which is currently used as an immunosuppressant to help prevent rejection of transplanted kidneys may also be used to treat the inherited kidney disease known as ADPKD, autosomal-dominant polycystic kidney disease.

Over 600,000 people in the US, and 12 million worldwide, are affected by ADPKD which is characterised by the proliferation of cysts that eventually debilitate the kidney, causing kidney failure in half of all patients by the time they reach age 50.

Currently no treatment exists to prevent or slow cyst formation, and most ADPKD patients require kidney transplants or life-long dialysis for survival, explained Thomas Weimbs from the university.

The team decided to follow kidney transplant patients that had been treated with tapamycin, as most keep their diseased kidneys and add a third healthy kidney.

They identified four such patients and found that their polycystic kidneys shrank in size by 25 per cent over two years.

As rapamycin is already clinically approved for other uses, the researchers hope that will expedite the progress of clinical trials.