Award Winning Artificial Kidney Is a Biomedical Breakthrough - Nerdist
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Award Winning Artificial Kidney Is a Biomedical Breakthrough

In a new biomedical breakthrough, a team of researchers at The Kidney Project in San Francisco has just earned a $650,000 reward for developing an artificial kidney that’s worked in preclinical trials. This artificial kidney, which the researchers hope can help those with kidney failure, hasn’t worked inside of a human yet. But hopefully, further iterations of the design are soon to come.

A scientist wearing gloves studies an artificial kidney inside of a lab.

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DesignTAXI reported on the artificial kidney, which is the result of a nationwide collaboration. Researchers from UC San Francisco (UCSF) and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) led the team, combining two necessary parts for a functioning artificial kidney: the hemofilter and bioreactor.

As the video immediately below shows, the mechanical hemofilter removes toxins from the blood. Using engineered renal tubule cells—i.e., lab-cultured kidney cells—the bioreactor maintains water volume, electrolyte balance, and metabolic functions. The artificial kidney also has semiconductor membranes that enable the filtration of blood without pumps.

Inside of a human, the device would connect to the circulatory system via a series of tubes. As blood pumps through the body, the artificial kidney would clear it of toxins. Subsequently, the device would dispose of them into the bladder as waste.

“Our artificial kidney will allow patients to eat and drink freely. Travel without [the need for] a machine. And have better physiological outcomes because they’re getting continuous treatment,” Shuvo Roy told ABC7. Roy, a UCSF researcher and co-lead of The Kidney Project, added that the team’s prototype is already able to produce urine. Possible inside of a large animal, too, as The Kidney Project has already begun animal testing.

A visualization of an artificial kidney implanted into a transparent human's body.

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If The Kidney Project’s device works in human trials, it could be a boon for people on dialysis. For example, Roy and his colleagues note that an artificial kidney could obviate the need for blood thinners or immunosuppressant drugs. Availability of the devices could also lead to less demand on the pool of donated kidneys. Two advancements that seem like they’re worth infinitely more than $650,000.

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