Can Zinc supplementation reduce anorexia in people with kidney failure?

This month, we will feature the second of three recipients of the 2022 Early Career Medical Research Grants awarded by SSMRF. Dr Jessica Dawson received a grant for the project, Zinc supplementation to reduce anorexia in people with kidney failure receiving conservative kidney management, which she is working on with fellow researcher Dr Frank Brennan.

Dr Dawson and Dr Brennan both work in the Kidney Supportive Care program within the Department of Renal Medicine at St George Hospital. Dr Dawson has been a Senior Renal Dietitian in this team since 2015 and recently completed her PhD through the University of Sydney and the Centre for Kidney Research in 2021. Her doctoral research focused on evaluating the effectiveness of digital interventions in improving dietary behaviours among individuals with chronic kidney disease.

Dr Brennan began his medical career in Sydney and South Africa before pursuing a degree in law while continuing to practice medicine. He currently works as a Palliative Care Physician with the College of Physicians.

Dr Dawson and Dr Brennan are passionate about finding therapeutic interventions to improve someone’s quality of life during the last part of their lives. “The Kidney Supportive Care program provides symptom support to people with kidney failure who choose conservative management and have limited life expectance. Debilitating symptoms are frequent, with about half of the people reporting anorexia and/or other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as taste changes. These symptoms lead to malnutrition and reduced quality of life,” shared Dr Dawson.

Zinc supplementation to reduce anorexia in people with kidney failure receiving conservative kidney management is a new study to evaluate the impact of zinc supplementation on appetite and other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as taste changes. The project will run to December 2023.

Dr Dawson and Dr Brennan have conducted reviews and observational studies in the Kidney Supportive Care populations that have provided the springboard to the development of this intervention study.

This study is one component of a more extensive program of work of Systematic Evaluation of Interventions for Symptom Management In Chronic Kidney Disease (SEISMIC). SEISMIC is a platform trial infrastructure being developed at the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, University of Sydney.

In addition to the seed grant provided by SSMRF, the Department of Renal Medicine at St George Hospital is funding blood sample analysis to evaluate novel biomarkers as part of the project. The NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Sydney is providing operational and academic support for the development and analysis of this study.

SSMRF’s funding will enable the purchase of zinc supplements and matched placebo and biomarker analyses for novel, zinc-related pathways of anorexia for 36 people receiving conservative kidney management.

This study will help determine whether a simple treatment can improve appetite and/or other gastrointestinal symptoms that impact many people with kidney failure and ultimately improve their quality of life. Additionally, this study will investigate whether zinc supplementation changes systemic inflammation or appetite-regulating hormones. This will help Dr Dawson and Dr Brennan to identify whether these pathways that may also impact appetite can be affected by the enhancement of zinc levels.

“We hope to find a simple intervention that improves people’s appetite and enjoyment of food,” said Dr Dawson when asked about the desired objectives for the project.

Dr Dawson and Dr Brennan have published a series of articles in the Journal of Renal Nutrition regarding the pathophysiology, prevalence and impact and management of taste changes: The Pathophysiology and Management of Taste Changes in Chronic Kidney Disease: A Review (2020), Prevalence of Taste Changes and Association with Other Nutrition-Related Symptoms in End-Stage Kidney Disease Patients (2021) and The Chronic Kidney Disease Taste Plate (2022).

Outside of work Dr Dawson and Dr Brennan both enjoy varied activities. Dr Dawson has two young girls who keep her very busy, and when able, she likes to go for walks in and around Sydney. Dr Brennan enjoys many activities outside his work, including reading and writing.

SSMRF CEO Pam Brown said “SSMRF believes that funding medical research is the best way to  develop better treatments for patients and improve healthcare for our community… and beyond. It’s gratifying to witness the donations channelled through the Foundation towards deserving local hospital research initiatives. Our goal is to sponsor more research projects annually, and we urge our community to contribute to our grants program. Donating to worthy causes like transformative medical research that betters the health and wellbeing of local families is crucial to contemplate.”

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