Kidney Disease: Are You at Risk?

A test to detect blood levels of a protein called suPAR may soon be able to predict your risk of developing kidney disease. The test is predictive in much the same way blood tests for cholesterol can predict the chances of developing heart disease.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center and the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute have found that elevated suPAR—soluble urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor—is a marker for future kidney damage as well as an indicator of kidney disease in its early stages.

Most people aren’t aware they have kidney disease because it tends to remain symptomless until reaching advanced stages. By the time signs and symptoms—blood in the urine, excessive thirst, and swollen hands and feet—appear, the kidney and its function have already been damaged.

Currently, certain blood and urine tests can indicate the presence of kidney disease, but they can neither diagnose the disease in its early phases nor predict risk. By knowing which patients are more likely to develop kidney disease, doctors can prescribe early interventions to prevent damage, such as urging patients to lose excess weight, be physically active, and quit smoking.

The researchers hope the results of the study, published in the November 2015 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, will help accelerate FDA approval of the blood test in the United States. SuPAR is currently used in some emergency rooms in Europe to expedite care. The study may also be a first step toward eventually developing antibodies that can counteract high suPAR levels to prevent future kidney disease.