Researchers at the University of California (UCSF) are developing an artificial kidney that could be tested in human patients within five years.
According to lead scientist Dr. Shuvo Roy, elements of the small artificial kidney have already undergone successful trials in lab animals.
“It mimics [much] more of a kidney function than just dialysis,” Roy told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“When we think of kidneys, we think of waste removal. And dialysis just does that. Dialysis doesn’t make you healthy – it just keeps you alive.”
So, how does it work?
Well, the artificial kidney comprises two parts: a filter and a cellular side.
On the filter side, silicone membranes with microscopic pores are tasked with separating toxins from the blood.
However, the body’s own blood pressure will force blood through the filter, effectively eliminating the need for intrusive pumps.
Meanwhile, on the cellular side, the filtered blood will be pumped over a bed of cells originating from the patient’s kidneys or a donor. The cells are capable of sensing the chemical makeup of the filtered blood, thereby allowing the body to maintain appropriate levels of salt, sugar and water.
When completed, the artificial kidney is expected to be about the size of a large cup of coffee. It will require no pumps or batteries, and could last for years, if not decades.
In addition, patients wouldn’t have to be subjected to a rigorous course of anti-rejection drugs, as the device lacks exposed natural tissue.
“[Clearly], the payoff to the patient community is tremendous,” said Roy. “It could have a transformative impact on their lives.”