The Kidney Project Has Successfully Tested An Artificial Kidney – One That Eliminates The Need For Dialysis

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Dialysis, an expensive and possibly dangerous procedure, is required for patients with kidney disease regularly. However, researchers at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have now successfully demonstrated a prototype bioartificial kidney that can be implanted and functions without requiring immune-suppressing drugs or blood thinners.

KidneyX awarded a $650,000 prize to the Kidney Project for the first-ever demonstration of a functional prototype of its implantable artificial kidney, putting the concept one step closer to reality.

KidneyX is a public-private collaboration that has been established “to accelerate innovation in the prevention, diagnostic and treatment of kidney diseases” between the US Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN). It is led by Shuvo Roy, PhD of UC San Francisco and William Fissell, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

The device consists of two basic components. The hemofilter contains silicone semiconductor membranes that collect waste from the blood. Meanwhile, the bioreactor includes modified renal tubule cells that manage the volume of water, the electrolyte balance and other metabolic processes. The membranes also guard against attack by the patient’s immune system.

The Kidney Project had previously tested each of these parts separately, but this is the first time they are being tested in tandem in one device during the Artificial Kidney Prize. The bioartificial kidney works under blood pressure alone, without the need for blood-thinning or immunoregulatory medications.

“The vision for the artificial kidney is to provide patients with complete mobility and better physiological outcomes than dialysis,” said Roy, who is a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine. “It promises a much higher quality of life for millions worldwide with kidney failure.”

The kidney is responsible for various critical tasks in the body, including filtering toxins and waste products from the blood and controlling blood pressure, electrolyte concentrations, and other internal fluids.

When these organs begin to deteriorate, duplicating these processes becomes difficult. As a result, patients frequently proceed with dialysis, which is time-consuming and uncomfortable. Kidney transplant, however, is a longer-term solution that can restore a higher quality of life but requires immune-suppressing medicines to prevent rejection.

The Kidney Project’s artificial kidney will imitate the high quality of life witnessed by kidney transplant recipients and eliminate the need for immunosuppressants.

“Our team engineered the artificial kidney to sustainably support a culture of human kidney cells without provoking an immune response,” said Roy. “Now that we have demonstrated the feasibility of combining the hemofilter and bioreactor, we can focus on upscaling the technology for more rigorous preclinical testing, and ultimately, clinical trials.”

The KidneyX Artificial Kidney Prize invited scientists and engineers to propose “continuous kidney replacement therapies that provide transformational treatment options beyond current dialysis methods,” a goal that UCSF’s artificial kidney is on track to meet in the future.

“This award is a testament to The Kidney Project’s bold vision and execution of a viable solution for millions of patients with kidney failure,” said UCSF School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD.  

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