Joseph H. Bruening

PKD Foundation Co-founder

At a time when very little was known about polycystic kidney disease (PKD), Joseph H. Bruening  and Jared J. Grantham, M.D., partnered to start the PKD Foundation. In August, 1982, when the PKD Foundation was founded, Mr. Bruening and Dr. Grantham’s vision was to advance PKD research and science to find treatments and a cure for PKD. Since then, the progress we have made is truly amazing.

Hope in the form of a news article

Before the PKD Foundation was established, Dr. Grantham was among the very few researchers studying PKD. But this was about to change. In February 1981, an article in the local paper, The Kansas City Star, titled “Research lags on hereditary condition, specialist says” caught Mr. Bruening’s attention. The article, an interview with Dr. Grantham about PKD and its devastating effects, pointed out that not much research was being conducted on PKD. In fact, at the time, Dr. Grantham’s study was the only active PKD grant funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the news article, Dr. Grantham also talked about his studies and the hypothesis of PKD cyst formation.

Upon reading the article, Mr. Bruening, a Kansas City, Mo., native businessman whose wife and daughter had PKD, knew that he wanted to do something to help his family and future generations. In December 1981, he mailed a letter to Dr. Grantham and indicated that he was interested in the possibility of contributing funds to toward research of the condition. He also asked Dr. Grantham for ideas on the most effective ways to use the funds to achieve results.

Mr. Bruening and Dr. Grantham finally met for the first time in May, 1982, and other times after that. They agreed to create a not-for-profit independent medical foundation that would seek to cure PKD: The Polycystic Kidney Research Foundation, which is now the PKD Foundation.

On a mission to end PKD

As the Foundation was established, Mr. Bruening was personally invested in making it a success. He relied on a small Board of Directors that included himself, his daughter Elizabeth and Dr. Grantham, among others. A Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) with the top PKD researchers in the country was also established to give the Foundation the scientific credentials it needed to succeed. The first SAC then wrote a Program Project Grant to the NIH to fund an interdisciplinary research plan with the goal of exploring the biology and pathology of renal cystic disease.

In the meantime, Mr. Bruening understood that, to find a cure for PKD, a lot of fundraising efforts would need to take place. It was a personal matter to him, and he was on a mission to raise money for the new Foundation, and relentlessly contacted wealthy individuals to raise awareness and ask for donations and support. His efforts eventually paid off and he was able to get some major donors on board with the mission of the Foundation.

How far we’ve come

Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Bruening and our donors, and the tireless efforts of our volunteers and outstanding researchers, including Dr. Grantham, the Foundation took off. Today, we are the largest private funder of PKD research. Over the last few decades, we have invested more than $50 million in basic and clinical research, nephrology fellowships, and scientific meetings with one simple goal: discover and deliver treatments and a cure for PKD.

Page last reviewed November 2022