2012-04-20

Co.Exist

An Artificial Kidney To Take Patients Off The Transplant Waiting List

Real organs are in short supply, so maybe this mechanical one (made with real human cells!) can help instead.

As anyone who has watched a medical drama knows, organs are in short supply and must be rushed everywhere in coolers, only to be delivered at the last possible moment. This is actually kind of true. In the U.S., 570,000 people suffer from chronic kidney failure, but last year there were only 16,812 kidneys available to be transplanted. A staggering 92,000 patients were left on the waiting list, which can be a death sentence.

There is no substitute for a real kidney, but researchers at UCSF and nine other labs have for years been working on an artificial version that can allow patients to live without dialysis, and without having to take immune suppressing drugs that normally prevent transplanted kidneys from being rejected by the body. This month, the FDA announced that it has selected the artificial kidney project for its Innovation Pathway, a program designed to help breakthrough technologies reach market faster than they might otherwise.

The implantable artificial kidney performs the water-balancing and metabolic functions of the real thing using lab-grown cells and nanofilters that remove blood toxins. No pumps or outside power supplies are needed; the body’s blood pressure pushes along filtration. "It’s a mechanical device combined with cells," explains Dr. Shuvo Roy, the leader of the artificial kidney project.

The device isn’t a perfect replica of a real kidney, but it provides enough functionality that patients can ditch dialysis and have complete freedom of mobility. The device can’t, for example, produce an important kidney chemical, called erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cell production. Patients using the artificial kidney will have to take a drug for this, just like dialysis patients.

But unlike real transplanted kidneys, which have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, the artificial kidney can last indefinitely (new cells may have to be implanted through an injection or small port every two years.)

The kidney transplant waiting list won’t disappear anytime soon, even with the emergence of the artificial kidney. But the people who get kidneys from the waiting list are often close to death; healthier patients are left waiting. The artificial version could be an option for patients who are unlikely to get a real transplant.

Roy hopes that a clinical trial can begin in 2016. The device could be on the market by the end of the decade, with a price tag that’s comparable to what it currently costs to maintain a transplant (about $30,000 a year).

"One of the encouraging things for us is that the fundamental scientific basis for the artificial kidney has already been established. We know the concept works. The challenges ahead are mostly engineering challenges," says Roy.

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15 Comments

  • Betsy Carolfi

    This is so great to hear for those on dialysis and those of us who are looking at the possible need for a kidney transplant in the future. This could revolutionize medicine.

  • Stephanie Taylor

    My husband has FSGS and is at 8% kidney function, we have been waiting for a transplant for 3 years. I have a lot of questions about this product and I would wanna see the results of previous tests

  • Mani Kandan

    Hai myself is NAGRAJ from CHICKMAGLUR TOWN, KARNATAKA STATE, INDIA . I am 40 year old healthy & fit. With no bad habits. Pure vegetarian. Due to family problem I want to donate my kidney (B +ve). RS 5,00,000. DOCTOR IS AVAILABLE for transplantation. KNOWN LANGUAGE KANNADA Phone: +918971401857.                                                 E mail id - 2009minworks@gmail.com PLEASE MAIL ME IF YOU DON'T KNOW KANNADA LANGUAGE TO COMMUNICATE.

  • 9964638566

    Hai myself is Mahesh from Bangalore. I am 33 year old
    healthy & fit. With no bad habits. Pure vegetarian. Due to family problem I
    want to donate my kidney (A +ve). RS 10,00,000. DOCTAR IS AVAILABLE for transplantation.
    Phone: +919686815009.

  • Erickh837

     hey iam muksin from indonesia and iam 24years old, male and my blood group is b and also i want donate my kidney if u want u can communicate with by fb m0u chin or mobile (indonesian mobile) :083129389301

  • Robert Tou

    May I hich part of Indonesia you are from? I would like to contact you through fb. I am from Malaysia and fb  or email robert.tou@gmail.com

  • Prince5909

    I am one of the probably millions who would be very open to this device being implanted since I've been told I am ineligible for a transplant, no list for me.  Would love to be considered for this trial when it becomes available. 

  • jason l

    How can I get on the list for a trial of this implantable artificial kidney.  I'm waiting on the other list and it's been way  too long.

    Jason

  • Reginald Mayes

    I pray for myself and  everyone needing a kidney it want be much longer until they actually tranplant the first artificial kidney