Helen Fitzsimons: Fighting Back against Chronic Kidney Disease


Tanya, a Persian Blue, came into Helen Fitzsimons’ family as a kitten and enjoyed a happy and healthy life until age 12. When Tanya went in for her annual checkup that year, the vet mentioned that she might be showing signs of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). He said that nothing could be done at that point.

A month later, Helen and Tanya returned to the veterinarian’s office because Tanya was steadily losing weight. This time they saw a different veterinarian who diagnosed CKD definitively and prescribed steroids, antibiotics and prescription food as a treatment. Sadly, Tanya passed away a few months after receiving her diagnosis.

Chronic kidney disease in cats
What heart disease is to humans, kidney disease is to cats– a leading cause of suffering and death. Sadly, 1 in 3 cats and 1 in 10 dogs will get kidney disease. Kidneys play a vital role in controlling blood pressure, producing hormones and removing waste– so it’s important to know if your pet’s kidneys are functioning properly. When kidneys break down, toxic waste forms in the bloodstream, affecting other organs and leading to renal failure.

Unfortunately, Helen has gone on to have two more cats with CKD pass away, despite her dedicated care and medical intervention. As a result of dealing, first-hand, with the shock and fear of a diagnosis of CKD, Helen has created a detailed website and authored a book, which provide detailed, practical information to help pet parents dealing with the disease. Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease describes symptoms; explains what symptoms and test results may mean; discusses treatment options; and covers the emotional aspects of living with and caring for a cat with CKD. Fortunately, since Helen first established her site, detection of CKD is improving and more veterinarians are aware of standard treatments for the disease.

Positive changes for kidney disease detection
“Diagnosis is much easier now. When Tanya was diagnosed, you had to send blood out to be tested, which could take several days and in the meantime you were working in the dark,” said Helen. “Thanks to companies such as Laboratories, Inc., provider of the SDMA test, most vets can now perform tests with a very quick turnaround time. This helps save lives.” (Editor’s Note: Laboratories, Inc. is the parent company of Our Site.)

Helen also believes there is greater awareness of the disease generally, and attributes this to veterinary researchers who are actively investigating the disease and publishing helpful guidelines. She further believes that the Internet has helped people find the guidance and information they need when their cat is first diagnosed. Helen recommends that people focus on the word “chronic” when they receive a diagnosis of CKD, which means the disease is ongoing, so death is not necessarily imminent.

“Don’t worry too much if your cat’s test results are very high at initial diagnosis,” said Helen. “Treat the cat, not the numbers- is the mantra for my CKD support group. The numbers will not be accurate until your cat has been stabilized with appropriate treatment.”

The future of fighting chronic kidney disease
Helen is anxious to see further progress in the field. She is watching the new Laboratories, Inc. SDMA test with interest and is pleased that cats can be diagnosed earlier with CKD. She hopes to see the same kind of progress being made with treatments for the disease. She is tracking stem cell therapy advances, but the results aren’t in yet on whether that field will supply needed treatment.

As a feline health advocate, Helen is also concerned with dental disease as many people may not realize that cats should have their teeth cleaned regularly. Pet owners can buy special cat toothpaste and toothbrushes for this, and it is not difficult. She encourages people to take their cat’s oral health seriously, as periodontal disease has been linked to other diseases, such as CKD and heart disease.

Obesity in cats is another health concern which Helen believes needs to be taken seriously. Obesity is more common in younger and middle-aged cats. Older cats are prone to weight loss, which can be a warning sign of illness generally, and CKD. Helen recommends weighing your cats every week to ensure they stay in the healthy range. This is very important because cats, with their fluffy coats, can lose a lot of weight before the pet parent realizes it.

Helen also recommends reacting quickly if your cat begins to urinate or defecate in the wrong place. Typically, this behavior means that your cat is ill and needs to see the veterinarian. The key is to be alert to changes:

If you suddenly see any of these changes, it is time for a vet visit.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


Exploring tough questions, looking for answers

COVID-19 and social and racial injustice are two of the biggest challenges facing the US right now. This Thursday, October 8th, we are holding a conversation that explores finding answers to both.

The CIRM Alpha Stem Cell Clinic Network Symposium is going to feature presentations about advances in stem cell and regenerative research, highlighting treatments that are already in the clinic and being offered to patients.

But we’re also going to dive a little deeper into the work we support, and use it to discuss two of the most pressing issues of the day.

One of the topics being featured is research into COVID-19. To date CIRM has funded 17 different projects, including three clinical trials. We’ll talk about how these are trying to find ways to help people infected with the virus, seeing if stem cells can help restore function to organs and tissues damaged by the virus, and if we can use stem cells to help develop safe and effective vaccines.

Immediately after that we are going to use COVID-19 as a way of exploring how the people most at risk of being infected and suffering serious consequences, are also the ones most likely to be left out of the research and have most trouble accessing treatments and vaccines.

Study after study highlights how racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in clinical trials and disproportionately affected by debilitating diseases. We have a responsibility to change that, to ensure that the underserved are given the same opportunity to take part in clinical trials as other communities.

How do we do that, how do we change a system that has resisted change for so long, how do we overcome the mistrust that has built up in underserved communities following decades of abuse? We’ll be talking about with experts who are on the front lines of this movement.

It promises to be a lively meeting. We’d love to see you there. It’s virtual – of course – it’s open to everyone, and it’s free.

Here’s where you can register and find out more about the Symposium


Poor sleep linked to toxic buildup of Alzheimer's protein, memory loss

Heavy deposits of the toxic protein, beta-amyloid, shown in red in the brain on the right, are linked to poor sleep and may be paving the way for Alzheimer's disease. A brain benefiting from deep sleep brain waves and an absence of beta-amyloid is shown on the left. Credit: Bryce Mander and Matthew Walker

Sleep may be a missing piece in the Alzheimer's disease puzzle.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found compelling evidence that poor sleep - particularly a deficit of the deep, restorative slumber needed to hit the save button on memories - is a channel through which the beta-amyloid protein believed to trigger Alzheimer's disease attacks the brain's long-term memory.

"Our findings reveal a new pathway through which Alzheimer's disease may cause memory decline later in life," said UC Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker, senior author of the study to be published Monday, June , in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Excessive deposits of beta-amyloid are key suspects in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease, a virulent form of dementia caused by the gradual death of brain cells. An unprecedented wave of aging baby boomers is expected to make Alzheimer's disease, which has been diagnosed in more than 40 million people, one of the world's fastest-growing and most debilitating public health concerns.

The good news about the findings, Walker said, is that poor sleep is potentially treatable and can be enhanced through exercise, behavioral therapy and even electrical stimulation that amplifies brain waves during sleep, a technology that has been used successfully in young adults to increase their overnight memory.

"This discovery offers hope," he said. "Sleep could be a novel therapeutic target for fighting back against memory impairment in older adults and even those with dementia."

The study was co-led by UC Berkeley neuroscientists Bryce Mander and William Jagust, a leading expert on Alzheimer's disease. The team has received a major National Institutes of Health grant to conduct a longitudinal study to test their hypothesis that sleep is an early warning sign or biomarker of Alzheimer's disease.

While most research in this area has depended on animal subjects, this latest study has the advantage of human subjects recruited by Jagust, a professor with joint appointments at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, the School of Public Health and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"Over the past few years, the links between sleep, beta-amyloid, memory, and Alzheimer's disease have been growing stronger," Jagust said. "Our study shows that this beta-amyloid deposition may lead to a vicious cycle in which sleep is further disturbed and memory impaired."

Using a powerful combination of brain imaging and other diagnostic tools on 26 older adults who have not been diagnosed with dementia, researchers looked for the link between bad sleep, poor memory and the toxic accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins.

"The data we've collected are very suggestive that there's a causal link," said Mander, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory directed by Walker. "If we intervene to improve sleep, perhaps we can break that causal chain."

A buildup of beta-amyloid has been found in Alzheimer's patients and, independently, in people reporting sleep disorders. Moreover, a 2013 University of Rochester study found that the brain cells of mice would shrink during non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep to make space for cerebrospinal fluids to wash out toxic metabolites such as beta-amyloid.

"Sleep is helping wash away toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and from potentially destroying brain cells," Walker said. "It's providing a power cleanse for the brain."

Specifically, the researchers looked at how the quantity of beta-amyloid in the brain's medial frontal lobe impairs deep non-REM sleep, which we need to retain and consolidate fact-based memories.

In a previous study, Mander, Jagust and Walker found that the powerful brain waves generated during non-REM sleep play a key role in transferring memories from the hippocampus - which supports short-term storage for information - to longer-term storage in the frontal cortex. In elderly people, deterioration of this frontal region of the brain has been linked to poor-quality sleep.

For this latest study, researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to measure the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in the brain during memory tasks an electroencephalographic (EEG) machine to measure brain waves during sleep and statistical models to analyze all the data.

The research was performed on 26 older adults, between the ages of 65 and 81, who showed no existing evidence of dementia or other neurodegenerative, sleep or psychiatric disorders. First, they each received PET scans to measure levels of beta-amyloid in the brain, after which they were tasked with memorizing 120 word pairs, and then tested on how well they remembered a portion of them.

The study participants then slept for eight hours, during which EEG measured their brain waves. The following morning, their brains were scanned using fMRI as they recalled the remaining word pairs. At this point, researchers tracked activity in the hippocampus, where memories are temporarily stored before they are transferred to the prefrontal cortex.

"The more you remember following a good night of sleep, the less you depend on the hippocampus and the more you use the cortex," Walker said. "It's the equivalent of retrieving files from the safe storage site of your computer's hard drive, rather than the temporary storage of a USB stick."

Overall, the results showed that the study participants with the highest levels of beta-amyloid in the medial frontal cortex had the poorest quality of sleep and, consequently, performed worst on the memory test the following morning, with some forgetting more than half of the information they had memorized the previous day.

"The more beta-amyloid you have in certain parts of your brain, the less deep sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory," Walker said. "Additionally, the less deep sleep you have, the less effective you are at clearing out this bad protein. It's a vicious cycle.

"But we don't yet know which of these two factors - the bad sleep or the bad protein - initially begins this cycle. Which one is the finger that flicks the first domino, triggering the cascade?" Walker added.

And that's what the researchers will determine as they track a new set of older adults over the next five years.

"This is a new pathway linking Alzheimer's disease to memory loss, and it's an important one because we can do something about it," Mander said.


THE SECOND-MOST IMPORTANT MATTER ON THE BALLOT: Prop 14.

by Don C. Reed

The most important matter on the ballot is of course the Presidency but I am a Democrat, so no surprises there. My concern is for the second most important issue. Here’s why:

On November 3rd, California faces a life/death stem cell decision.

Life and death? Do I exaggerate? Ask yourself one simple question:

What is the number one killer in the world today? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

“Chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths in the U.S., killing more than 1.7 million Americans each year…” (1)

And the financial cost of all that disease? Roughly $3 trillion dollars… (2)

Somebody tell me now, that chronic disease is not a life and death concern!

A one-word definition for “chronic” is “incurable”. But California rejects that definition, and is fighting back: using science to battle for cure.

Since 2004, California has had a beautiful stem cell program, called the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), battling chronic disease.

This is personal: cancer killed my wife Gloria, my sister Patty, and my mother Christine paralysis afflicts my son Roman every day.

Alzheimer’s and diabetes took the mother and son of Bob Klein, California’s friend, the man who brought us the first California stem cell initiative, and who leads the battle again — to restore that funding.

Is CIRM worth defending? CIRM is already defending us!

There are 94 clinical trials going on right now — all of which CIRM had a connection with, from 30 early fundings of the research — (3)

— or direct financial assistance to 64 clinical trials (4).

The research being done is so excellent that a special federal designation (Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy Designation) RMAT was granted to seven CIRM projects, dealing with cellular therapies. There were also two FDA breakthrough designations: one for cancer, the other for an immunological condition.

This is no empty honor it means the possibility of getting relief faster to the patients: with swifter FDA approval for treatments of paralysis, kidney disease, immune disorders, blindness, cancer and more. (5)

Advanced trials are showing great promise, including type one and type two insulin-dependent diabetes trials by ViaCyte (funded by CIRM)

CIRM-funded treatments saved the lives of 50 children, who would otherwise almost certainly have died of an immune disorder, the “bubble baby” disease.

Evangelina Vaccaro, victorious (with the help of science!) over the dread “bubble baby” disease.

It also achieved two FDA-approved treatments for blood cancer therapies.

Check out the campaign headquarters: www.caforcures.com.

Or, go to the program itself: www.cirm.ca.gov. See where the money went.

There is a short cut. On your search bar, put the name of the disease, followed by fact sheet CIRM:

For example: If you put: “Leukemia fact sheet CIRM”, Google will take you to:

There you will find summaries of scientists’ fights against this liquid cancer, their individual grants, and the total for leukemia: $193,464,356.00.

One hundred ninety-three million, four hundred sixty-four thousand, three hundred fifty-six thousand dollars…That’s the sort of funding that will win the war against leukemia, step by step, by scientists like Catriona Jamieson of UCSD..

Unfortunately… the money is almost gone.

And there is our decision: do we continue the fight, or sit back and surrender?

November 3rd is decision day — — unless you vote early — which I did!

As soon as the precious vote-by-mail envelope arrived, I went to the kitchen table, and went over the ballot, checking off the boxes I knew something about.

And what is the second-most most important issue on the ballot?

OBVIOUSLY — Proposition 14: the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020.

I love Prop 14. That is a triple exclamation mark issue for me! If I had to, I would walk to Sacramento to put in my vote for Prop 14!

It is not so difficult as that, fortunately. All I had to do was fill out the ballot, stick it in the envelope, seal it — and sign on the outside where I was supposed to.

Then I ran up to the post office, where BIG BLUE was waiting for me: the mailbox, massive, secured to the concrete, BIG BLUE, containing the hopes and dreams of all who cared enough to vote.

I stood there a moment, savoring the moment, just a little worried I might do something wrong.

This had to be done right. It was for my state, our country, and the world.

If Prop 14 wins, the battle continues strong: against cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, liver malfunction, blindness, deafness, heart disease, schizophrenia, autism and so much more — conditions we must fight, to protect our loved ones — and to help our California and national economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis!

I opened the Big Blue mailbox, slid in the sealed envelope, released my grip.

CLUNK. Done. I walked home, content.

Success on Prop 14 depends on the actions of dedicated individuals, like you.

What can you do, to insure continued funding for California’s stem cell program?

Thanks to the electronic miracle of the weblog, you can influence the decision up to the last minute. I will send out my last weblog on the morning of November 3rd, the official day of voting.

Also, and this may sound primitive… talk to people! Ask people you meet, “Hey, how about that Prop 14, the Stem cell Initiative?”

Share some enthusiasm — this is incredible stuff!

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to know everything before you speak. Think of all those people who know nothing, but still talk constantly — what you have to say is important!

Besides, you can never know everything about a subject as vast and ever-changing as stem cell research,

If somebody asks you a question but you don’t know the answer, just admit it.

“Good question, I don’t know — but go to the campaign’s website—www.caforcures.com, they will know.”

How important is a suggestion from a stranger? Very. If people do not know an issue, they could make up their mind because one person who took the trouble to bring it up. Everyone likes enthusiasm — they will care because you care.

Sometimes I say, “Hey, they’re fighting back against cancer, paralysis Alzheimer’s — all that stuff. If it hurts people, they’re fighting it!”

But maybe you live in another state, so you can’t vote on Prop14? Write a letter or email to your friend/relation who does live in California, tell him/her to be sure and vote YES on Prop 14 — don’t forget, Prop 14, that’s a big yes on 14.

I make it a commitment to talk to at least one person a day about Prop 14 — not much! But if the vote totals get close, think how valuable that single vote could be.

Never forget 2000, when the Presidency was decided by just 538 votes, and we got George Bush instead of Al Gore? Every vote matters — and yours could be the one that takes us over the top!

Also, never be afraid to ask a busy person! The worst you can get is a no — and you might get a yes from someone who really knows what they are doing.

For instance, I love to see statements of support from CIRM board members, arguably the busiest folk on the planet.

“Several of you have asked me why I am in favor of Prop 14, and I thought you might be interested in my rationale. I’m writing this as a California scientist and researcher… (For full disclosure, I am on the board of CIRM).

“Prop. 14 is about authorizing $5.5 billion to keep our stem cell research program going. This is critical: to bring this innovative science all the way to patients is a very challenging endeavor: requiring cutting edge research, complex manufacturing, regulatory approval, etc.

“Public money is essential because the risks are too high for a classical Venture Capital funding model. If government does not step in, very little will happen.

“The CIRM has a variety of people on its board: academics, industry executives, patient advocates… I really believe that a public agency like them can make good decisions with public money…

“CIRM’s track record is impressive, including 2 FDA approved drugs and 64 clinical trials. (See full list at https://www.cirm.ca.gov/clinical-trials.)

“So a lot more is coming, but it just takes time. A few examples: Phase 3 trials in ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Phase 2 in Retinitis Pigmentosa, etc.

“In sum, this measure will serve important unmet medical needs. “

— Anne-Marie Duliege, MD, board member, CIRM.

Anne-Marie DuLiege, CIRM board member

Remember the great Helen Keller, blind and deaf, but a champion advocate for research and human rights?

Helen Keller, an inspiration for all time.

She said: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task. But it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

Which reminds me of a story…

It was the first day I met Bob Klein, inventor of the stem cell program.

Bob Klein, fighting to fund stem cell research

It was April, 2003. Bob walked with me back to meet some of the Prop 71 campaign workers — three connected rooms full, counters piled high with empty pizza boxes — and then he rushed off for a phone meeting.

I looked around at all these busy people, young, enthusiastic, laughing as they did chores to make the stem cell program a reality. I turned to a woman named Amy Daley and asked, was there something I could do to help, right now?

“We were supposed to have clipboards for the signature gatherers, but they did not arrive. But we do have all these empty pizza boxes — if somebody would take a razor blade and cut the boxes into squares for backing….

I went home with a blood blister on my thumb, but just blissfully happy.

You should see all the great people I work with now, on the Prop 14 campaign — some of them just scary talented, and modern-minded like you would not believe. They use phones like super-computers — I can barely answer my little flip phone.

But still I can do something.

VOTE YES! on Proposition 14 — and ask a friend to do the same.

1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › pmc › articles › PMC5876976

Don C. Reed is the author of: REVOLUTIONARY THERAPIES: How the California Stem Cell Program Eased Suffering, Saved Lives and Changed the Face of Medicine Forever”, World Scientific Publishing, 2020.


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