Do you know someone who suffers from kidney disorder? Chances are, you do. Kidney failure is so prevalent in America that even celebrities like Selena Gomez have had to undergo organ transplant (1). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 37 million adults in the country have some kind of kidney disease (2). Even though there are several types of kidney disorders, the end-stage renal disease is the deadliest. If a patient gets to this stage, it means their kidney is no longer functioning. At this point, it’s either they start dialysis treatment or get a new organ for transplant.
What is Kidney Dialysis?
Dialysis is the traditional therapy that has been used for decades to help patients with kidney failure. It is a slow and painful procedure that filters waste and excess water from the patient’s body. Dialysis also helps to maintain the balance of minerals such as sodium in the bloodstream which stabilizes blood pressure (3).
As of 2016, more than 700,000 people in the United States undergo dialysis treatment yearly or are living with a kidney transplant (4). Most people with kidney failure have no option than dialysis as getting a new kidney takes three to five years, and sometimes, it never happens. In fact, over 100,000 people are currently on a waiting list for a new kidney across the country (5). Sadly, more than 240 people die daily (4) while on dialysis waiting for a new kidney as their average life expectancy is reduced to 5 -- 10 years (3).
There is no denying that kidney failure is an epidemic in America. However, scientists say that the invention of the artificial kidney could help eliminate the need for dialysis and save millions of lives.
The Artificial Kidney Project
Two researchers have made a commitment to build the world’s first artificial kidney. Bioengineer Shuvo Roy at the University of California San Francisco and William Fissel of the University of Vanderbilt have developed the kidney project to tackle the problem of kidney donation shortage (6). Unlike dialysis, this new artificial kidney will be implanted into the patient and powered by blood pressure. The device is made of special microchips and live kidney cells.
“We can leverage Mother Nature’s 60 million years of research and development and use kidney cells that fortunately for us grow well in the lab dish, and grow them into a bioreactor of living cells,” explained Fissell in a recent article published by Research News Vanderbilt
Once transplanted, the device will be able to filter waste fluid and essential nutrients just like a normal kidney. Dialysis patients have to visit a hospital three times a week for four hours, but this device is reliable and works 24/7. The best part is that patients will only need a simple surgical procedure to insert the device into their bodies.
Your Kidney Is Your Life
Your kidneys are among the most important organs in your body; without them, you’ll die. Some functions the kidney perform includes (7):
Maintain body fluid: your kidneys work to keep your extracellular body fluid levels such as blood plasma in the right ratio; not too concentrated nor diluted.
Regulate essential minerals in the blood: the amount of essential nutrients in your body such as potassium and calcium is constantly being regulated by your kidneys.
Removes waste from the body: the kidney is responsible for getting rid of waste fluid from your body. Your kidney creates urine by filtering unwanted minerals and toxins. If it fails, toxic chemicals build-up which leads to sickness and often death (8).
Managing hormones that help produce red blood cells, promote bone health, and regulate blood pressure.
The Kidney Project Could Create a Dialysis Free Future
The device that the kidney project is developing will function just like a normal healthy kidney. Patients will no longer sit through hours of dialysis; they can eat and drink whatever they want. The artificial kidney will be a much better and permanent solution than dialysis. Also, patients will avoid the long waiting list and any complications associated with a kidney transplant (9).
One of the researchers said that the artificial kidney is still undergoing various testing to ensure it’s safe and effective before human trials begin. If successful, this device will make dialysis obsolete and solve the kidney donation scarcity. What’s more? This new revolutionary device will give people with kidney failure another chance to live a healthy life while saving the national healthcare billions of dollars.