Researchers Release Model of Implantable Artificial Kidney

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SAN FRANCISCO—University of California, San Francisco, researchers have unveiled a prototype model of the first implantable artificial kidney, which they say could one day eliminate the need for dialysis.

The device includes thousands of microscopic filters as well as a bioreactor to mimic the metabolic and water-balancing roles of a real kidney. It is being developed in a collaborative effort by engineers, biologists and physicians nationwide, led by Shuvo Roy, PhD, in the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.

Artificial KidneyThe treatment has been proven to work for the sickest patients using a room-sized external model developed by a team member in Michigan. Roy’s goal is to apply silicon fabrication technology, along with specially engineered compartments for live kidney cells, to shrink that large-scale technology into a device the size of a coffee cup. The device would then be implanted in the body without the need for immune suppressant medications, allowing the patient to live a more normal life.

“This device is designed to deliver most of the health benefits of a kidney transplant, while addressing the limited number of kidney donors each year,” said Roy, an associate professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy who specializes in developing micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology for biomedical applications. “This could dramatically reduce the burden of renal failure for millions of people worldwide, while also reducing one of the largest costs in U.S. healthcare.”

A model of the implantable bioartificial kidney shows the two-stage system. Thousands of nanoscale filters remove toxins from the blood, while a BioCartridge of renal tubule cells mimics the metabolic and water-balance roles of the human kidney.

The team has established the feasibility of an implantable model in animal models and plans to be ready for clinical trials in five to seven years.

The device will use thousands of nanoscopic filters to remove toxins from the blood.

The implantable device aims to eradicate that problem. The two-stage system uses a hemofilter to remove toxins from the blood, while applying recent advances in tissue engineering to grow renal tubule cells to provide other biological functions of a healthy kidney. The process relies on the body’s blood pressure to perform filtration without needing pumps or an electrical power supply.

The team is collaborating with 10 other teams of researchers on the project, including the Cleveland Clinic where Roy initially developed the idea, Case Western Reserve University, University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Penn State University.

The first phase of the project, which has already been completed, focused on developing the technologies required to reduce the device to a size that could fit into the body and testing the individual components in animal models. In the second and current phase, the team is doing the sophisticated work needed to scale up the device for humans. The team now has the components and a visual model and is pursuing federal and private support to bring the project to clinical use.

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