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Artificial kidneys soon to hit markets

An artificial kidney is due to undergo human trials. The kidney, which is in development by American researcher Dr Shuvo Roy, could be granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  if the trials are successful. This manner of development holds particular relevance in India with kidney failure and renal disease becoming an ever more prevalent issue.

The device is possibly the most advanced of its kind. It is a fist sized artificial kidney that will be implanted into the patient’s abdomen. Dr. Royannounced at the Tanker annual charity and awards night that the kidney will be powered by the patient’s own blood. The implant will be capable of performing the role of a standard kidney, filtering the blood as well as controlling blood pressure.

Dr Roy is a bio-engineer working at the University of California, San Francisco. He was born in Chittagong in Bangladesh. He has worked towards the goal of an artificial kidney for a number of years. A paper released in 2009 detailed the hurdles he needed to overcome, such as package size and water requirements. The artificial kidney is also noted to perform the same capacity as an organic kidney in releasing hormones. This stands out amongst other kidney replacement technologies as a potential for complete kidney replacement and total restoration of function.

The mechanism for this is due to the device being a “living bioreactor”. The artificial kidney passes blood through a membrane, inside of which are living kidney cells. Though details are relatively sparse it can be assumed that this is also how the device is powered by the patient’s blood, absorbing the necessary nutrients to keep the cells functioning while performing the filtration. Living kidney cells also allows for the release of hormones into the bloodstream.

Until the announcement of the artificial kidney, most proposed advancements to treat kidney diseases involved the concept of portable dialysis. In FDA tests for a wearable dialysis device it was found that coupled with the mobility and freedom from multiple hospital visits a week associated with conventional dialysis, the dietary requirements were mostly removed, with the portable device functioning far more similarly to a regular kidney.

This comes as a potentially vital announcement for India, recent studies have indicated kidney failure to be the eighth leading cause of death in India. This has been attributed to high rates of diabetes in the country.

More and more people in India are becoming reliant on regular dialysis. For some, living too far away from hospitals for the potential multiple trips to hospital per week, it is either a practical impossibility in terms of transport, or a financial strain that they cannot accommodate.
Though this work is promising, as with all new innovations, particularly ones so complex, it shall come with a price reflecting this. While it may improve the treatment and restore a practically normal life to those with the means to afford the device, for many in poverty it is out of arm’s reach.

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