President’s Address: Launch of New Programs Marks 2012 Accomplishments

An Interview with Ronald J. Falk, MD, FASN



You have led ASN toward a number of new initiatives this year. One is the creation of the ASN Foundation for Kidney Research. Why does ASN need a foundation?

ASN needs a foundation to concentrate effort on support for kidney research. The society needs to develop funds for long-term preservation of fellowship programs, and the foundation allows industry and individuals to contribute to these important efforts.

Treatment will advance only if we train the next generation of researchers in kidney disease. These fellowships offer the best and the brightest the opportunity to concentrate two years of time on nephrology research, and they promote the long-term success of the young investigators who will help cure kidney disease.

You spearheaded a new program called the Kidney Health Initiative (KHI). What is that?

The Kidney Health Initiative is a wonderful new program that allows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), patient support groups, kidney organizations, and industry to work together to develop opportunities for drugs, devices, biologics, and food safety that benefit patients. Intuitively, everyone understands the potential of this partnership, a collaborative based on a similar effort in cardiovascular disease.

Kidney as a specialty has not produced adequate outcome measures or strongly encouraged new drug development and approval. Through a signed agreement with FDA, ASN can help rally the kidney community to overcome this gap. The Kidney Health Initiative encourages an iterative process in which all stakeholders work with the FDA to set appropriate guideposts for safe and beneficial development of drugs, devices, and biologics and for better food labeling.

Why is food labeling important?

As I sit here today, I’m drinking a bottle of water. The water probably contains phosphorus, and may in fact have as much phosphorus as a glass of milk. It is essential for kidney patients to understand what they are ingesting. And the kidney community must do a better job of addressing food safety, including toxin-induced kidney diseases such as hemolytic uremic syndrome.

ASN is focusing more effort on promoting the concept of kidney professionals working “shoulder to shoulder.” What does this mean?

In the practice domain physicians don’t work in isolation. Physicians work with nurses, pharmacists, and physician assistants. These professionals work shoulder-to-shoulder to provide excellent care to patients with kidney disease. In the past, ASN focused its educational services on physicians, and as a society we now recognize the importance of educating the health care team. This is why ASN has expanded continuing education credits to allow all members of the kidney community to benefit professionally from attending the best nephrology meeting in the world.

You speak often about the joys of being a nephrologist. What do you find most satisfying when you see patients?

Being a nephrologist is a wonderful occupation. The patients we see have complex and fascinating problems that require astute insights and creative solutions. Nephrologists encounter a broad range of challenges, everything from transplants to stones to bone disease. The opportunity to care for these patients, to help someone get through a medical crisis and help restore their function, the opportunity to see someone recover so much quality of life after a transplant, or to help someone at the end of life die with dignity and respect—these are true privileges. It is for these kinds of opportunities that most of us went to medical school, and in helping our patients we make our own lives better.

What is new at ASN Kidney Week 2012?

Among the new offerings at this meeting are a diabetes learning pathway that includes sessions on medical management, the renin–angiotensin system blockade, uric acid, and renal structure. In addition, this year’s meeting provides an opportunity for trainees to present case reports. ASN has not encouraged case reports in the past, and I am really excited to learn more about what our trainees will share with us from their clinical experiences. More than 200 case reports will be presented at Kidney Week, and I encourage all meeting participants to visit these posters. This opportunity also helps nephrology training programs meet the requirements of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

The theme for Kidney Week 2012 is Curing Kidney Disease. You believe this specific phrase is important. Why?

Many other medical specialties use the word “cure” as a rallying cry, to highlight advances in their fields and to give patients hope. Kidney specialists hardly ever use that word, yet they work every day to restore patients’ health and quality of life and to advance kidney research.

Historically, kidney professionals have employed poor word choices—“chronic,” “progressive,” “end-stage”—that give a sense of poor outcomes. These words diminish the impressive accomplishments and many successes of the last 40 years, and our vocabulary doesn’t reflect the positive changes this specialty has made in improving the lives of millions of patients.

Will you still be able to conduct the Kidney Week podcast interviews this year?

Absolutely. I enjoy the interviews and learn so much from the people who share their meeting experiences with me.

You have served on ASN Council for six years. What are ASN’s most notable strengths?

Without question the ASN’s greatest strength is its members. This community of professionals makes incredible contributions to medicine, science, and education. ASN’s members benefit from the support of a phenomenally dedicated and experienced staff whose efforts allow members to have an effective voice in all areas of education, policy, and research. ASN’s volunteer leaders bring a great sense of purpose to their work at ASN; their efforts reflect the immense contributions of the entire community.