Researchers Plan to Build the World's First Implantable, Mechanical Kidney

By Eliza Strickland | September 9, 2010 1:11 pm

artificial-kidneyResearchers have designed the first artificial kidney small enough to slip comfortably inside the human body, and they say the technological breakthrough could be an enormous benefit for people grappling with kidney disease. Modern medicine can keep patients alive if their kidneys fail via external dialysis machines that filter toxins from their blood, but it’s a grueling and imperfect process.

Patients must be tethered to machines at least three times a week for three to five hours at a stretch. Even then, a dialysis machine is only about 13 percent as effective as a functional kidney, and the five-year survival rate of patients on dialysis is just 33 to 35 percent. To restore health, patients need a kidney transplant, and there just aren’t enough donor organs to go around. In August, there were 85,000 patients on the U.S. waiting list for a kidney … while only 17,000 kidney transplants took place last year. [Technology Review]

An external and far bigger (think room-sized) version of this artificial kidney technology has been tested and proven to work; then the big challenge was miniaturization. The separate components of a smaller device have now been tested in animals, and researchers say their prototype should be about the size of a coffee cup. They hope to build the mechanical organ and have it ready for clinical trials within 5 to 7 years.

Researchers say the device is an improvement over dialysis because it doesn’t just filter out toxins from the blood, it also performs some of the functions of healthy kidney cells–which is not surprising, as the mechanism actually contains human kidney cells. First the patient’s blood goes through a filter made of silicon membranes; it is forced through the filter’s nano-pores by the patient’s blood pressure, with no external pump or power source required. Then the blood will flow through a bioreactor where living kidney cells perform the metabolic and water-balancing functions of a real kidney.

In the press release announcing the prototype, lead researcher Shuvo Roy of the University of California, San Francisco said the device could have not only medical benefits, but also economic advantages.

“This could dramatically reduce the burden of renal failure for millions of people worldwide, while also reducing one of the largest costs in U.S. healthcare.” [UCSF]

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Image: UCSF

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
  • Wil

    Very interesting! I have a few questions.

    1. Will the patient need citrate or heparin (nearly every implanted object chronically tends to cause blood clots if a “blood thinner” is not used).

    2. Where do the kidney cells come from? From the patient himself?

    3. Will the patient need anti-rejection drugs?

    4. Is the device intended to be maintenance-free for the life of the patient?

    5. Will it require a power supply or a remote monitor or controller?

    Thanks for your help with these questions.

  • faiz

    how the silicon membrane that will get used up due to blocked pores will be processed for further function? or is there some mechanism to maintain its functioning

  • Betty Jane Philpot

    Exciting news! Anxious to hear when you have the coffe size perfected. Sooner the better.

  • Wayne P. Muckleroy

    I recently developed kidney failure, as a result of chemotherapy. I would like to participate in the human trials. Please notify me with specifics of getting involved in this project.

    Thanks so much. What exciting news!
    Wayne P. Muckleroy

  • Renea Orr

    This would be great for my child that has a disease that even attacks the newly transplanted kidney. Maybe there is hope for her and other children like her! I will pray this research continues!

  • Joni R. Smith

    Will it be easier for kidney failure patients to get on this list. I have had kideney failure for two years and I am still not on the organ donor list.

  • TThomas

    If this is true it is very exciting and gives a lot of hope. However, like the previous posts I have a few questions; Where will the device be sited in the human body? How will it be attached to arteries to take the blood? How will it be maintained? How is it powered? Will it actually enable the patient to produce urine?

  • jim

    Currently on dialysis and cannot get transplant because blood disease would kill new kidney. Waiting patiently for you mechanical kidney. If you need people for testing please let me know.

  • Chaston C. Roston III

    WOW! I’m in ESRD, a nurse and biomedical theoretical engineer. If you would be willing to answer the questions asked by Wil and Faiz for me, I’d love to be a part on your human trials. This had become my focus. I found this article doing research regarding whether the idea was feasible and to avoid reinventing the wheel. This project would be a lifesaver.

  • Selma Swain

    I’m a 29yr old single mum with 2 kids 3 years ago I was diagnoised with stage 1 chronic kidney disease I would love to be if possible 1 of the first to test this out as at the moment I am desperate as I wonder how long my kidneys will really last! I love my life and would love to see my kids grow up well into their 40’s. This would be a miracle to thousands of people here in Australia and a big help to alot of my family and friends.

  • Wanda Ramos

    Selma why dont you switch to a raw diet or juicing for now. I wish I had been given a warning. now it is very difficult to do those things on dialysis. Im 48 was diagnosed with lupus nephritis 3 yrs ago. have other autoimmune disorders since 30 years old.
    Of course run diet by your nutritionist and nephrologist but the kidneys have a hard time processing protein and given the right nutrition and enzymes the body can and was designed to heal itself.

  • Wanda Ramos

    Count me in also with being a part of the testing it out. I find dialysis unbearable and struggling to go through it everyday. I dialyze at home 5 times a week. I feel I live to get on the machine only and I am always inpatient at the hospital. Hopefully the implantable machine will cut down on hospital stays and infections as well and give some freedom back to the dialysis patient’s life where they can actually live and dialysis is secondary instead of the main attraction in his/her life.

  • Shuvo Roy

    To keep up with the status of the project, you can check out the Facebook page at:

  • john middleton

    I’am at stage 4 just getting ready to start dialysis,as i speak to different people about the condition and the shortage of donners 8 out of 10 said they would be prepered to donate a kidney ,my question is can a scheme not be put in place to allow people to donate a kidney in general, not neceserly just within the family or friends. I have yet to see an advert on the tv publising the efects and how vast a problem kidney desease is.

  • mary

    My husband is on his secound transplate the anti rejection meds are now killing of his platelets long story… anyways hes in dyer need of an alturnative and this sounds perfect please contact me if you are staring any studies on humans!

  • http://- Ritesh

    My father is a nephro patient since 3 years and would like to enroll voluntarily for human testing. Can you please let me know how he can become a part of this. We live in India but are open to travel anywhere. Thanks

  • Lorraine Parker

    hello i am 28 year old woman single mother and i am on hemodialysis and have been for 1 and 1/2 years with a failed transplant through rejection. and i would be very willing to fly to the U.S to become the 1st to use the bionic kidney. please contact me if any one ready to test this great invention x


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