According a report from The National Kidney Foundation in 2012, it costs $87 billion a year to care for patients with kidney disease, not counting medication. With more than 100,000 kidney donors on the list for transplants, last year only about 17,000 patients received new kidneys. We have previously noted an external kidney function replacement in a belt-like apparatus, the Wearable Artificial Kidney (WAK) in development by Blood Purification Technologies. Work is now underway on an implantable artificial kidney.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are developing an implantable artificial kidney by combining silicon nanotechnology and fluid dynamics. The nanochips will act as filters for the device, with each pore of the filter designed for specific tasks. Fifteen chips will be layered in a stack in the final form. The nanochips will have living kidney cells grown in the lab placed directly on top of each chip. Fluid dynamics comes into play to be sure the blood flow through the artificial kidney doesn’t get stuck in any area of the kidney and clot. This bio-hybrid device combines living kidney cells on microchips within tubes. It can be isolated from the body’s immune system, according to the scientists at Vanderbilt, which means organ rejection won’t be an issue. This eliminates the rigorous matching and anti-rejection drugs required with conventional organ transplants.
The project leaders at Vanderbilt estimate the final device design will be approximately the size of a soda can or small coffee can, which they state is small enough to fit within in the body cavity. There will be no need for battery power as the artificial kidney will be powered by the heart’s blood flow. First trials of the nanochip filters in patient volunteers are on schedule to begin late 2017. If this artificial, implantable kidney passes the trials and eventually is approved for use, it could save and improve the quality of millions of lives. Kidney disease is the 9th most common cause of death in the U.S. and more than two-thirds of the cases are attributable to diabetes or high blood pressure. The hopes of millions could rest on the success of this implantable artificial kidney.