The Senate passed this week a resolution by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., to designate Sept. 14-20 as National Polycystic Kidney Disease Awareness Week.

Hatch said that while it is not well known, the disease afflicts 600,000 Americans and 12 million people worldwide — more than such conditions as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell anemia and Down syndrome combined.

"A normal, healthy kidney is about the size of a fist; but, in fully developed cases of autosomal dominant PKD, a cyst-filled kidney can grow to the size of a football or larger and weigh as much as 20 to 30 pounds," Hatch said. "This leads to decreased kidney function and kidney failure."

While no cure and only minimal treatments are currently available for PKD, Hatch said hope exists.

"Scientists have begun to identify what triggers formation of PKD cysts," he said. "Today, magnetic resonance imaging is helping scientists design better clinical trials for new treatments of adult PKD."