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Hamburger-Eating Study Could Help Kidneys

And of the 20 million Americans with kidney disease, studies show blacks are four times more likely than any other racial group to develop ESRD. In the Richmond-Petersburg area, 70 to 80 percent of patients with ESRD are black.

Ripley has spent more than three years developing medical research to find answers. In her study, volunteers are asked to consume large hamburgers during two two-night stays at the VCU Medical Center Research Unit. The study is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases arm of the National Institutes for Health.

Depending on their weight, males will eat up to a pound and a half (pre-cooked) of hamburger; females will eat up to a pound. Buns are not included or allowed. Ditto for fries. “They can have all the pepper they want,” Ripley says, and a packet or so of ketchup or mustard. But after that, it’s bare burger. “We thought if we added the condiments it would be too much,” she says.

Eating the hamburger allows Ripley and her colleagues to see the effects that elevated protein levels have on kidneys. In the study, volunteers have their blood pressure monitored overnight to see whether it dips. (Participants can go to class or work during the day, Ripley says, if they don’t have engage in strenuous activities.) On the morning after the second night, urine and blood samples are collected. Participants eat the hamburgers in the late morning and, after a period of observation, are free to go by early afternoon.

The stays occur eight weeks apart. Between visits, participants are asked to take either potassium supplements or placebo and have their blood pressure and kidney functions monitored. In exchange, they could pocket up to $400 and will receive nutritional assessments and medical care at no cost.

So far, 66 people have participated in the study. Ripley hopes to enroll 15 people a month for the next year, to meet her 160 goal. She’s even had a few calls from vegetarians asking to participate by eating veggie burgers instead. To this, she offers a bemused, “Sorry.”

For information on the study call 828-1955. — Brandon Walters

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