Currently, the best hope for kidney patients to get off dialysis is to wait for a transplant, but that can sometimes take up to five years and even longer depending on location. That may soon change though, thanks to a new engineering breakthrough from a Bay Area research team, which was recently awarded a major prize for a device they hope will someday significantly improve the lives of kidney patients.
How does an artificial kidney work?
The device is essentially an implantable artificial kidney that the research team started working on a decade ago. The latest prototype involves two chambers, each about the size of a deck of cards, reports ABC News. One side of the device features membrane filters that separate waste from the blood — similar to dialysis — while the other side has a bioreactor filled with living cells, which carry out some of the other functions a kidney would normally perform.
“Our artificial kidney will allow patients to eat and drink freely. Travel without being tethered to a machine. And have better physiological outcomes because they’re getting continuous treatment,” explains UCSF researcher Shuvo Roy, Ph.D.
So far, the device has been successfully tested in animals but — while the results are considered a turning point — the research team says the model will have to be scaled up to make human trials possible. The ultimate aim is to keep the unit at a size that can be implanted in the body while adding more filtering power along with a better performing biological capability.
The team working on the project recently won a $650,000 prize from the group Kidney-X, which is a public-private partnership working to accelerate the treatment of kidney disease.