In 2013, UQ scientists succeeded in growing a mini-kidney in a petri dish, which contained two of the three key cells in a human kidney. This year, they have followed this up with another key success in the fight against kidney failure: a complete mini-kidney containing all three of the cell types.
These mini-kidneys can be used in drug screening for kidney disease treatments, disease modelling, and even cell therapy, where a diseased kidney is injected with living, healthy cells. The mini-kidney is similar in size and capability to the kidney of a developing foetus, so it’s not big enough to be used for transplants.
Head researcher, Professor Melissa Little, said, “One day this may mean new treatments for patients with kidney failure.”
The method created by the UQ team uses cells taken from skin and blood, meaning doctors could eventually make a miniature model kidney for any patient for personalised cell therapy.
At the moment, patients with kidney failure are limited in their treatment options to medication to control fluid, potassium and calcium levels; renal dialysis to remove toxins from the body; and as a last resort, a kidney transplant.
Sadly, 50 Australians die every day due to kidney-related diseases, according to Kidney Health Australia. Only 6% of dialysis patients receive a transplant each year, because there are very few people signed up for the Australian Organ Donor Register. You can sign up for the Organ Donor Register today to save a life when you’re done with yours.
Affording the financial cost of kidney disease
Kidney disease is not a cheap disease to treat. It costs the Australian economy $1 billion a year to treat kidney disease.
But the economy doesn’t bear the entire cost for individual patients. 1 in 1,400 Australians are currently on dialysis or living with a transplant, according to Kidney Health Australia‘s latest figures. For these patients, finding a way to afford ongoing treatment can be difficult without private health insurance.
Can patients with kidney disease get health insurance?
Patients with kidney disease can get private health insurance, but they generally face a waiting period of 12 months to claim any benefits if they are already showing symptoms of the disease. This applies even if the disease has not yet been diagnosed.
The Private Health Insurance Act 2007 defines a pre-existing condition as any ailment, illness, or condition where the provider’s medical adviser says that symptoms existed anytime in the 6 months before a new policy started. A “new” policy includes an existing policy that is being upgraded to a higher level of benefits. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re ever switching health insurance policies or upgrading your policy to a higher level of benefits.
This is why it’s so important that everyone sign up for private health insurance if they can afford to, whether your family has a history of kidney disease or not. If you contract kidney disease, you want to know that you’ll be able to afford your treatment from day one.
Once the waiting period has passed, what you’re covered for depends on your level of cover. (Check your PDS or contact your provider for details of your own policy cover.)
You need to make sure you are signed up for a high enough level of Hospital cover, or Hospital + Extras. Basic or Standard level Hospital policies will often not cover Renal Dialysis if you experience kidney failure.
For peace of mind, compare health insurance policies on CANSTAR’s website today.