Artificial kidney advances one step closer to reality

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published November 5, 2015

Key Takeaways

Investigators moved one step closer to their goal of an implantable artificial kidney, thanks to a 4-year, $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“This project is about creating a permanent solution to the scarcity problem in organ transplantation,” said nephrologist William Fissell IV, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), in Nashville, TN. “We are increasing the options for people with chronic kidney disease who would otherwise be forced onto dialysis.”

Although transplantation is the preferred treatment for kidney failure, donor kidneys are scarce. More than 109,000 patients in the United States are currently on the waiting list, yet only 17,108 received a kidney transplant last year, according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Every day in the US, an average of 12 patients die awaiting a kidney transplant.

The NIH grant will be shared evenly between VUMC—where Dr. Fissell is the principal investigator—and the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), in San Francisco, CA, where the principal investigator is Shuvo Roy, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences. The two investigators are long-time collaborators.

“Dr. Roy and I are pursuing this approach because the integration of silicon nanotechnology and cell culture will achieve a bio-hybrid device within the lifetime of someone who starts dialysis today,” Dr. Fissell said.

The bio-artificial kidney combines filters made of silicon with living human kidney cells cultured from samples harvested from deceased donors. The donated cells form a membrane positioned downstream from the device’s intake filter, out of reach of the body’s immune response, so organ rejection is not an issue. The implant requires no external power source because it’s designed to run on the body’s normal blood pressure.

The investigators are hoping to test the implant in pilot and feasibility studies in human subjects by 2017 or 2018.

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