New Artificial Kidney a Viable Alternative to Dialysis

Organs are hard to come by. Just ask the 92,000 patients with renal failure who weren't able to find a donor kidney last year.

Dialysis is only an imperfect solution to kidney failure, as it replicates the kidneys’ waste functions, but cannot carry out any of the kidneys’ endocrine functions. Dialysis also limits mobility and carries with it an infection risk at the dialysis site.

Researchers at UCSF and nine other labs are in the process of creating an artificial kidney that could be used in case a donor organ is not available and as a better alternative to dialysis. The artificial kidney is a combination of real cells and nanofilters, a “mechanical device combined with cells,” describes project lead Dr. Shuvo Roy.

The artificial kidney can last indefinitely, as long as new cells are injected into the kidney every two years or so. Although the artificial kidney can’t produce any of the compounds that a real kidney can, the artificial kidney gets the job of waste filtering done without any hassle to the patient.

Dr. Roy hopes that the kidney will be on clinical trial by 2016, meaning that the artificial kidney won’t go on the market for quite a few years yet.

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  • We can produce the substances the kidney produce synthetically why can't we include it in the kidney and let it time release?
  • The quantities required would mean it would need to be refilled quite frequently - which would mean regular risk of infection. It would also make the device that much more complex and incorporate more points of failure. Add on the added R&D costs and you're easily tripling the price. If you could just take pills to replace the lost hormones, it would be much cheaper and safer.

    This is all assuming we can produce the needed compounds synthetically and that they can be introduced orally. I've no idea if we can or not.
  • As of right now, we inject synthetic erythropoietin intravenously (through the dialysis machine during treatment) or subcutaneously to aid the body in the production of red blood cells since the kidney can no longer do so. As of right now, there is no oral form.

    I would love to see how much this "kidney" would cost and who would be eligible to receive it. All dialysis patients? Only transplant patients? It cost over $5000 per month per patient for dialysis. I have had patients on dialysis for over 20 years. Would this be more cost effective in the long run?