End-stage renal disease, or chronic kidney failure, affects more than 500,000 people per year in the U.S. alone, and currently is only fully treated with a kidney transplant.
That number has been rising between five to seven percent per year and with just 17,000 donated kidneys available for transplant last year the waiting list currently exceeds 85,000, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network. Those who can’t secure a kidney for transplant are left reliant on kidney dialysis. An expensive and time consuming process that typically requires three sessions per week, for three to five hours per session, in which blood is pumped through an external circuit for filtration. In a development that could one day eliminate the need for dialysis, researchers have unveiled a prototype model of the first implantable artificial kidney.
The device, which would include thousands of microscopic filters as well as a bioreactor to mimic the metabolic and water-balancing roles of a real kidney, is being developed in a collaborative effort by engineers, biologists and physicians nationwide, led by Shuvo Roy, PhD, in the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.
The treatment has been proven to work for the sickest patients using a room-sized external model developed by a team member in Michigan. Roy’s goal is to apply silicon fabrication technology, along with specially engineered compartments for live kidney cells, to shrink that large-scale technology into a device the size of a coffee cup. The device would then be implanted in the body without the need for immune suppressant medications, allowing the patient to live a more normal life.
The team has established the feasibility of an implantable model in animal models and plans to be ready for clinical trials in five to seven years.