As mentioned by Joe Cosgrove in a previous article, wearable kidneys are now a reality. During end-stage kidney disease, the organs can no longer function properly, thusly failing to clear the blood of waste and other fluids. The vast majority of individuals suffering from end-stage kidney disease find in dialysis an adequate, to some extent, of course, alternative treatment to compensate for a certain degree of lost kidney function. As already addressed in this blog, dialysis removes excess fluids and other metabolic waste that builds up in the blood. However, and although dialysis gets rids of fluids and waste it does not replace the organ in its capability to regulate an individual’s metabolism, endocrine function and maintaining a stable physiological process such as electrolyte balance, temperature (homeostasis).
Having patients who have end-stage kidney disease undergo longer and more frequent dialysis sessions have proven to be effective at improving the individual’s pressure control, weight, nutritional status; the overall health of the heart and, as mentioned above, clearing the blood of waste and toxins at a more gradual pace—which ultimately resembles the original functionality of healthy kidneys. Unfortunately, given the fact that dialysis is a rather expensive treatment, health care systems often face difficulties to provide patients with more frequent sessions since they lack the resources. Additionally, the changes individuals with the end-stage disease must make to their daily lifestyle—their diets, especially—, and the need to travel to get the treatment end up affecting the general quality of their lives.
With this in mind, researchers and physicians are underway to come up with a wearable artificial kidney that would allow patients to get their treatments as they continue living their daily activities normally. Thus, it would definitely improve the removal of toxins, fluids, and waste through more frequent and longer sessions. A wearable kidney, as discussed in other articles, could help improve the patient’s overall quality of life by reducing the nagging consequences of the traditional treatment.
Nonetheless, a kidney transplant is, by all means, the best alternative for those individuals with end-stage kidney disease, but since there are not enough donors, this options is not as available as one might desire. For instance, two years ago, in Canada, almost 1,435 Canadians received new kidneys whereas 3,470 were still waiting for one. Thus, dialysis is today’s most advanced and, to some extent, affordable option for patients depending on their state.
Hemodialysis, for instance, commonly refers to the process where patients are connected to a device that circulates their blood through a dialyzer. This membrane filters and removes toxins, excess fluids and waste products from the blood while returning other components such as red blood cells back to the body. This variant can be carried out either in dialysis clinics or even at home. It can be performed at different frequencies and durations. And since it requires access to the individual’s vascular system, this alternative is a bit more complex than the other variant—also known as peritoneal dialysis.
In peritoneal dialysis, the process itself focuses on the individual’s peritoneum to get rid of toxins, wastes and excess fluids. A solution known as dialysate enters the body through a catheter. The solution stays within the abdomen for a determined period of time, allowing waste products to separate themselves from the blood in the peritoneum into the solution. The dialysate is afterwards taken out from the body.
Although the aforementioned methods are the most common ones under today’s circumstances, it does not mean that both are perfect solutions. Dialysis, irrespective of its method, has a tremendous negative impact on the patient’s quality of life. Those patients undergoing dialysis are forced to change a lot of aspects of their lives: they must avoid and reduce the consumption of certain fluids and foods. Such juncture was compelling enough for researchers and physicians to develop a wearable artificial kidney since dialysis as a treatment was first conceived. However, they were initially limited by technology at that time. Today, after many attempts, the medical community has come up with a lightweight, wearable dialysis device.
The main components of the machine include the dialysis membrane, the dialysate, vascular access, power source, pumping system and the capability to monitor the user. Although the device is still in beta version, someday, hopefully soon, patients might free themselves from the nagging effects of today’s traditional dialysis machines. As seen and asserted by the medical community, this technology is finally within reach, and it is expected to be a tremendous game changer: after carrying out several clinical trials, physicians and researchers have their hopes high, and even venture themselves to say that for those patients requiring hemodialysis this type of development will pose a whole new approach towards the treatment. Individuals with advanced end-stage kidney disease are often forced to spend countless hours plugged to a machine in a dialysis center; however, and taking into account what has been said about the possibility of having wearable kidneys, this will no longer be the case.
* Featured Image courtesy of Pixabay at Pexels.com