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Our kidneys serve the vital function of disposing of dissolved waste products from our bodies such as salts and excess nitrogen. Unfortunately, because the same liquids also include other substances than just urine, the kidneys themselves (we each have two) are subject to potential harm depending on what else is in the urine.

Previously we’ve written about an artificial kidney implant and more than one artificial kidney worn on a belt pack. Now, University of Michigan researchers have developed a “kidney on a chip” that can be used in drug testing to minimize damage from drugs. The focus of the Michigan study was on intensive care drugs, many of which can be very dangerous for kidneys. According to the researchers, as many as 2/3 of intensive care patients have serious kidney injury during their stay and more than 20 percent are caused by ICU medication.

The kidney on a chip enables drug companies and others to discover the effect of medication as it goes through the kidneys, using a microfluidic chip. Traditionally drugs are tested on animals before they are used with humans, but animals process drugs much faster which can protect them more than the slower human processing times. In testing with the chips, the researchers were able to determine that the powerful antibiotic gentamicin, used often in intensive care units, is less dangerous in one large dose than a slow infusion throughout the day.

University of Michigan researchers have said microfludic chips can be used in creating lab-versions of hearts and lungs as well as kidneys. For now, however, the advantage of doing “human” testing with a chip rather than on actual patients sounds like a great idea.