Polycystic kidney disease — or PKD — causes numerous cysts to grow on the kidneys. It's the fourth leading cause of kidney failure. There is no cure, but a researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center believes treatments are about 10 years away.
A genetic condition, polycystic kidney disease runs in families from one generation to the next.
Dr. Vishal Patel, an assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern, is one of several researchers at various institutions working to find a way to slow progression of the disease.
About PKD: The clinical hallmark of this disease is the massive enlargement of both kidneys. A normal person's kidney should be the size of their fist. In people with polycystic kidney disease, each kidney can grow to be as large as a football.
You can have PKD and not know it: The most common variety is adult-onset. Even though the patients are born with the mutation, they don’t feel any symptoms. The disease actually can go undetected for years until people reach their 40s or their 50s.
About PKD and kidney failure: Not everybody who inherits the mutation will develop kidney failure. About 50 percent of people with the mutated genes end up getting kidney failure, requiring dialysis or transplant. The other 50 percent will have cysts in their kidneys, but their kidneys will continue to have some level of function, not requiring dialysis or kidney transplant.
Treatments for PKD: We instruct our patients to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle, which includes adequate hydration, nutrition, not smoking, exercise - the usual things. Unfortunately, in the United States there isn’t any approved treatment specifically for polycystic kidney disease.
One possibility: Recent clinical research data shows a drug called tolvaptan seems to slow polycystic kidney disease growth in patients. Authorities in Japan, Canada and the E.U. have approved this medication. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has not approved the medication yet because of concerns that it may have side effects. Additional research on tolvaptan is going on, and in a couple of years after reviewing newer data, the FDA will probably approve this medication for treatment of PKD in the U.S.
For more information:
Related event: The North Texas Walk for PKD will be held Oct. 21 in Southlake.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.