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World leading Australian scientists developing nuclear medicine to save lives

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), has signed an MOU with the Sri Lankan Presidential Taskforce for Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease to assist in the fight against Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu).

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia, H.E. Somasundaram Skandakumar, and the CEO of ANSTO, Dr Adi Paterson, signed an MOU that will see Australia provide new insights into the disease. 

“ANSTO’s expertise is in nuclear science, applied science and management of landmark infrastructure, and this new agreement is an opportunity to bring together all three, and to work on identifying the possible causes and treatments,” said Dr Paterson.

CKDu is a major health problem in Sri Lanka affecting more than 15 per cent of the population aged 15-70 years in the North Central Province, mostly poor farmers living in remote areas.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the disease is now also prevalent in the North western, Eastern, Southern and Central provinces.

The true number of CKDu cases and the cause of the disease remain unknown. CKDu is a progressive condition marked by the gradual loss of kidney function. There is an increasingly urgent need to identify the cause of CKDu in order to prevent and treat the disease and save vulnerable lives.

Priorities for addressing CKDu include earlier diagnosis and improved working conditions in such intense heat. Initial symptoms of the disease are nondistinct, such as tiredness and appetite loss, meaning people are usually diagnosed late, when damage to the kidney is extensive and irreversible. The only option at this stage is dialysis, which is not always available or accessible.

It is also a serious public health problem in other countries, particularly in Central America, and despite more than 20 years of study in Sri Lanka and globally, it is not well understood.  While CKDu appears to disproportionally affect poor, rural, male farmers in hot climates, the reasons why are not yet clear.

The World Health Organisation has identified several potential contributing factors, including heavy metals in the groundwater, agrochemicals, heat stress, malnutrition and low birth weight, and leptospirosis.

ANSTO and Australia will bring together several types of science and science infrastructure, including the ANSTO operated Synchrotron, as part of the research effort to investigate the epidemiology of CKDu.

ANSTO has capabilities to investigate a number of the possible causes, routes of distribution and treatments, particularly in relation to studying any causal links with heavy metals in water, or agrochemicals.

Meredith Horne

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