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New research could reduce healthcare disparities based on race when diagnosing kidney disease

New research shows that removing a race modifier from a formula used to diagnose kidney disease could lead to more equitable care for Black patients. This study and a second that examines how this same diagnostic approach impacts Asian patients was presented at the 2022 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo.

One of the standard ways to diagnose kidney disease is by estimating glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) with a mathematical formula. Race has long been used as a variable in eGFR equations because researchers and clinicians mistakenly believed that Black people have higher muscle mass and/or creatinine metabolism than White people. The formula most widely used to determine eGFR, the Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemiology Collaboration equation (CKD-EPI), includes variables for serum creatinine, gender, race, and age. However, the National Kidney Foundation and the American Society of Nephrology now recommend that clinical laboratories use a revised CKD-EPI refit formula developed in 2021 for assessing kidney function that does not include a race modifier. Two studies discussed at 2022 AACC set out to determine how effective this new formula is.

Impact of removing race adjustment on chronic kidney disease staging

Researchers at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Health, Dallas, led by Ibrahim Hashim, PhD, examined serum creatinine values of 56,676 patients over a 16-month timeframe and estimated eGFR using the previous CKD-EPI formula and the new CKD-EPI refit formula. After removing the race adjustment, 14% to 28% of Black patients were reclassified into a more severe chronic kidney disease stage.

Based on these results, the researchers support removing race as a factor in eGFR equations, noting that it perpetuates systemic racism and discrimination in healthcare, and that its removal will provide more equitable care and reduce healthcare disparities. UT South-western began using the new formula in May, noted Hashim.

“Race is a social construct,” he said. “By removing race as a variable, patients are now objectively classified, which opens access for additional testing and more investigation into their condition. This can only lead to better care for patients with chronic kidney disease. This is very significant because we know there is racial disparity in healthcare. By removing race as a factor, medicine becomes more personalized.”

Accuracy of the new eGFR equation in Korea

Researchers at several different medical schools and hospitals in Korea also assessed the new 2021 CKD-EPI equation in a Korean population, as very few studies have evaluated the new equation’s performance in Asian patients. The researchers compared eGFR results from 1,899 people with results from chromium-51-ethylene-diamine tetraacetic acid GFR measurements (the gold standard for determining GFR). Interestingly, they found that the mean bias of the 2021 CKD-EPI refit formula was significantly greater than that of the original CKD-EPI formula when comparing test results for both males and females.

This means that “additional research is needed to decide whether to apply the 2021 CKD-EPI equation in clinical practice” with Asian patients, said Tae-Dong Jeong, MD, PhD, the lead author of the study and a researcher with Ewha Womans University College of Medicine in Seoul.

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