End-stage renal disease (ESRD) drives artificial kidney research and development. ESRD patients have two choices for survival: a successful kidney implant from a healthy donor or 4 to 6 hours hooked to a dialysis machine 3 or 4 times a week for the rest of their lives. Patient motivation for additional ESRD treatment alternatives couldn’t be higher. The high cost of ongoing dialysis for millions of patients also compels the healthcare system to seek other treatments. We’ve written about a wearable external artificial kidney, a layered nanochip artificial kidney implant, and a kidney on a chip built to expedite drug testing.

U.S. Kidney Research Corporation (USKRC) recently announced a prototype for an implantable artificial kidney that does not require water, dialysate concentrate, or a dialyzer to purify the blood. The current prototype — 16″ long by 10″ wide by 20″ high — is nowhere near implantable. It has passed in-house lab testing and will undergo its first trial with animals at an FDA-ISO compliant facility later this summer. According to USKRC, the new design employs multiple technologies to perform the two primary kidney functions” filter blood and transport ions. The system does not use a dialysate or biological-based components. With a touchscreen for setup and monitoring, the USKRC combines multiple mesh electrodeionization technology with pressure-driven ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis modules, and sensors; a computer chip regulates the processes.

Dr. Ira Kurtz, Chief of Nephrology at the University of California and U.S. Kidney Research Corporation’s Chief Science/Medical Advisor and a team lead by Jamie Hestekin Ph.D., University of Arkansas co-developed the USKRC technology. According to Kurtz, the same technology behind the standalone machine can be miniaturized to make wearable and implantable versions of the artificial kidney.

When we wrote about an earlier wearable artificial kidney we joked that it looked like a Matt Damon contrivance in “The Martian.” USKRC’s box-like current version may look like a cross between a 70s film projector and a portable radiation detector, but if the next testing stages prove successful, the April 2019 KidneyX Redesign Dialysis award-winner could be poised to improve the lives of millions of people with ESRD.