Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a condition characterized by a gradual loss in kidney function. The last stage of CKD, known as kidney failure (or end stage renal disease [ESRD]), is an irreversible disease in which the kidneys are no longer capable of supporting daily life. About 20 million American adults are living with CKD, and more than 600,000 have progressed to kidney failure, the fifth and final stage of CKD.

Early stages of CKD are asymptomatic, and therefore CKD patients can be unaware of their status— leading to a large proportion of patients learning of their kidney failure during emergency situations. This lack of awareness is a major barrier with serious ramifications for patient health, research support, and cost.

The healthcare costs are staggering. In aggregate, Medicare spends about $30 billion per year for kidney failure patient care—accounting for greater than 7 percent of Medicare fee-for-service spending. Aside from the economic burden, this disease takes an emotional toll on patients and families, as they navigate their new realities of a demanding dialysis treatment schedule, extreme resultant fatigue, as well as lost wages and high out-of-pocket costs.

Several barriers that plague the CKD/kidney failure field can be classified in the following categories:

  1. Lack of disease awareness and workforce challenges;
  2. Lack of innovation in transplantation and dialysis delivery; and,
  3. Limited disease understanding at the molecular level.

However, there are corresponding primary philanthropic opportunities that can potentially help mitigate these challenges:

  1. Channeling private investment to spearhead public awareness campaigns
  2. Philanthropic giving for the purpose of endowing annual summits and creating a global network of faculty to nurture the future generation of researchers and physician-scientists.
  3. Philanthropy can move the needle on organ scarcity by funding innovative efforts to expand access to transplantation, increase living kidney donation rates, and strategically invest in artificial kidney development.
  4. The catalytic potential of philanthropy can foster a culture shift regarding kidney disease, whereby patients are better informed and encouraged to participate in clinical trials.