First Ever Artificial Kidney That Runs On Blood Pressure Can Spare Patients From Dialysis And Transplants

Interesting Engineering

Kidney disease can be debilitating. Patients have to rely on modern technology for their life. If dialysis no longer works, they have to be placed on a waiting list for transplant. It’s a tough process because finding a match is a difficult task.

What should they do then when they have run out of options? Researchers have been searching for ways to extend their lives as easily as possible. And it looks like help may soon be on the way. Credit must be given to modern technology and to the tireless workers who have given much of their time to helping others.


The Kidney Project

The Kidney Project came up with the implantable bioartificial kidney. While the model might be in its early stages of development, it comes with huge potentials. This promises to free kidney disease patients from becoming dependent on dialysis machines and transplant waiting lists. Recently, the company also took another big step forward and it may soon become a reality as it raked in a whopping $650,000 prize from KidneyX. They won the respect of their accolades because of its first-ever demonstration of a functional prototype of its implantable artificial kidney.

KidneyX is a public–private partnership that’s between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology. They have been established and founded in order to “accelerate innovation in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of kidney diseases.”

The Kidney Project is a nationwide collaboration. The model combines two essential parts of its artificial kidney: the hemofilter and the bioreactor. They have also successfully implanted the smartphone-sized device that was designed for preclinical evaluation. For such an advancement, the team was awarded KidneyX’s Phase 1 Artificial Kidney Prize. They were one of six triumphant teams that were chosen from a group of well-respected peers in the international field.

Over the past few years, The Kidney Project also successfully tested the hemofilter. This device was designed to remove waste products and toxins found in the blood. The bioreactor, on the other hand, replicates other kidney functions by the human body such as the balance of electrolytes in blood. This was done in separate experiments.

For the Artificial Kidney Prize, the team combined the two units into a scaled-down version of the artificial kidney. They then studied, analyzed, and evaluated its performance made in a preclinical model. The units had to work in tandem and was powered by blood pressure alone. The best part is that this doesn’t require blood thinning or immunosuppressant drugs.

“The vision for the artificial kidney is to provide patients with complete mobility and better physiological outcomes than dialysis,” shared Roy. He is a faculty member of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine. He further states, “It promises a much higher quality of life for millions worldwide with kidney failure.”


All about Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure is otherwise known as end-stage renal disease. When left untreated or if it worsens, the disease could turn to the progressive and dangerous loss of kidney function. Those who have experienced kidney failure are required to visit dialysis clinics multiple times every week to have their blood filtered. The steps included in the process are time-consuming, uncomfortable, and even risky.

There is a minority of patients that live life with transplanted kidneys. They remain grateful to a pool of donated kidneys, which are constantly in high demand. And even when these patients have been the recipients of a new kidney, they need to take on a life dependent on immunosuppressant drugs, which sometimes can have severe side effects.

The Kidney Project’s artificial kidney has been designed to replicate the high quality of life seen in kidney transplant recipients. Their goal is to achieve the “gold standard” of kidney disease treatment. And according to Roy, this model could save them from having the need to take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives.

“Our team engineered the artificial kidney to sustainably support a culture of human kidney cells without provoking an immune response,” shared Roy. He also said, “Now that we have demonstrated the feasibility of combining the hemofilter and bioreactor, we can focus on upscaling the technology for more rigorous preclinical testing, and ultimately, clinical trials.”

The KidneyX Artificial Kidney Prize required the scientists and engineers to submit “continuous kidney replacement therapies that provide transformational treatment options beyond current dialysis methods.” The bar was set high so that UCSF’s artificial kidney is positioned to be in full development in the coming years.

“This award is a testament to The Kidney Project’s bold vision and execution of a viable solution for millions of patients with kidney failure,” shared UCSF School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD.