Wearable Kidneys: a necessary alternative

Wearable Kidneys: a necessary alternative

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Earlier in another article Joe Cosgrove covered the latest findings on the possibility of having wearable kidneys sooner that expected. Truth is, that a team of university physicians and scientists managed to develop an artificial kidney technology that can be indeed implanted in the body. This high-tech bio-hybrid device, although dependant on living kidney cells, uses a series of highly specialized microchips powered by the patient’s heart in order to efficiently carry out the process of filtering waste from the bloodstream.

Recent figures displayed that a staggering 100,000 patients are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, and nearly over 3,000 other cases pop up each year. The average person spends over 3,5 years waiting for a viable kidney transplant —which suggests that the amount of people who is currently on dialysis may be in fact somewhat of a tremendous number—. However, as estimated by the National Kidney Foundation, only one out of three patients on dialysis get to live more than five years without needing a transplant. The issue with organs that come from deceased donors (and with living ones as well) is that these have to be properly assessed and consequently matched in order to avoid any possible tissue rejection; so, under these circumstances, in order to increase the odds of allowing patients to live longer than the aforementioned time frame while reducing the time they have got to wait for a proper transplant, this artificial solution seems to be able to get past these complications.

Image courtesy of Jim Forest at Flickr.com

Renal diseases are in fact on the rise; the number of cases, according to recent figures, have gone through the roof —bad dieting, bad habits, amongst other possible causes are the most plausible reasons why these conditions seem to be growing in numbers—. The whole idea behind creating wearable kidney is to provide dialysis patients and early-stage and chronic kidney failure patients with a permanent solution that allows them bypass the issue with waiting lists and transplants.

As of 2015, the wearable kidney project started its implementation and, after receiving multiple donations, the first prototype has been successfully developed. The prototype is roughly the size of a tea cup and works using a combination of silicon nanotechnology and, as mentioned above, living kidney cells to properly filter waste from the blood stream. Its 15 microchips serve as the substrate in which living kidney cells can grow, creating ultimately a somewhat bio-artificial device: by seizing the cell’s capacity to grow well in a dish, scientists managed to grow them into a reactor of living cells capable of telling between waste products and the nutrients the body is supposed to reabsorb. The prototype is set in motion by the patient’s own blood stream.

Why is it necessary?

Even though the prototype may be a bit incipient, it is definitely a good start, although nephrologists believe slow-paced and gentle dialysis is the best way to simulate the natural functions of a human kidney: constantly cleansing and filtering the blood of toxins and waste products. The wearable kidney project is also a way to get out of the blatant status quo —which seems to be fondly regarded by the industry—: up to what extent is dialysis, the best alternative is still a matter of debate (often triggered by ulterior intentions). Society cannot afford to keep building clinics, and forcing patients to fondly embrace home dialysis is as well highly questioned, since patients may not want to have at home a portable dialysis device and supplies for them to go through the dreary process of setting it in motion. Besides, it is more than obvious that the medical community do not want to rely on transplantation forever, especially when there is a worldwide donor shortage. Physicians and the scientific community, in general, have committed themselves to improve the prospects of both transplants and dialysis in order to have a better survival rate when it comes to kidney and renal diseases. Besides, it is fair to assert that even though transplants and dialysis may be to some extent something positive, the resulting quality of life for those under such treatment are not the most appealing: think of always being hooked up to a machine while it filters and cleanses the blood for hours, nearly three times a week.

Image courtesy of Vladimir Pustovit at Flickr.com

The need for an alternative was long before in the minds of those who are currently carrying out the research and developing the best prototype. This wearable kidney is supposed to be strapped around the patient’s waist and trials have just begun: a diabetic individual whose kidneys started functioning improperly became the first person in the United States to test whether the device is living up to its promise. Bear in mind, that even though this is just a test, it seems that the future will be indeed much more promising for those in need.

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