By American Society of Nephrology President Raymond C. Harris, MD, FASN and XPRIZE CEO, Marcus Shingles
Kidney transplantation is the optimal form of therapy for the nearly half million Americans and millions of people around the world suffering from kidney failure. However, the kidney transplant waitlist--approximately 100,000 Americans--is growing, and the average wait time for a transplant is five years. Most will die before their name is ever called.
About 450,000 Americans have failed kidneys and - in the absence of transplant options -- depend on dialysis to live. Dialysis keeps them alive but their quality of life is often dismal, and their life expectancy is often short. At a cost of nearly $35 billion annually--more than the entire budget for the National Institutes of Health--Medicare pays for dialysis for every citizen with kidney failure regardless of age. Despite this remarkable commitment, investment in innovations for kidney treatments has been inadequate for decades.
Unlike kidney transplants, dialysis is not a cure and does not return patients to full health or a normal lifestyle. Patients receiving dialysis endure three to four hour treatment three or more times a week. Their blood is removed, filtered through a machine that clears toxins and waste the kidneys would normally remove, and returned. The process is emotionally exhausting and physically debilitating. Only 1 in 5 patients of working age who are on dialysis have jobs. Approximately half of the dialysis population dies within three years.
Kidney diseases disproportionately affect minority populations. African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans are up to four times more likely to develop kidney failure than Caucasians. African Americans in low income neighborhoods are also 57 percent less likely to make the transplant list than others.
Recognizing that this kidney transplant crisis is largely due to organ shortages, the Obama Administration recently convened the White House Organ Summit. At the Summit, the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) announced its pledge of the first $7 million dollars toward a global prize competition to develop a novel wearable or implantable device that replaces kidney function and improves patient quality of life, in partnership with the XPRIZE Foundation.
ASN and XPRIZE believe we must do better for the millions of people with kidney failure. XPRIZE designs and implements innovative competition models that utilize the unique combination of gamification, crowd-sourcing, incentive prize theory, and exponential technologies to solve the world's grandest challenges. We believe that a global competition will help create a fundamental shift in the way we treat kidney failure by incentivizing the development of a better alternative to dialysis, improving patients' health and the quality of their lives. Research in bioengineering, matrix technology, and cell biology is poised to ignite revolutionary changes in the options clinicians can offer people with kidney diseases. A global prize competition would bring together scientists and innovators to catalyze transformative innovation.
We commend the White House for putting a spotlight on this critical issue, and we call on others to join us in this serious and time-sensitive initiative to help finalize, fund, and execute this competition that can ultimately improve treatment options for kidney failure patients and the clinicians who treat them. Learn more at http://www.xprize.org/prizes/future-prizes/kidney-disease and http://www.asn-online.org/news/2016/0613-organ-summit.aspx.