Although we rarely talk about kidneys, they are nevertheless vital to our human existence. Their main function is to purify the blood, and to filter and eliminate wastes and excess fluids from the body. Without functioning kidneys, death is inevitable. The two principal causes of renal insufficiency or renal failure are hypertension and diabetes, which is why these diseases should be treated expeditiously.
There are two options for individuals whose kidneys are no longer able to fulfill their role: dialysis or organ transplant. Dialysis therapy is the only viable option for patients who are unable to receive a kidney transplant, or those who have yet to receive one. Dialysis has a serious and significant impact on a patient’s life. Sessions of haemodialysis usually require three weekly hospital visits, typically lasting between three or four hours each (another form of dialysis called peritoneal dialysis is performed at home, several times a day). In addition, dialysis patients need to adhere to a very strict diet. Needless to say, this can be quite restricting.
A California-based company has developed a portable artificial kidney that weighs five kilograms (11 lbs), and is carried on a belt. This new device offers hope to dialysis patients, as it has the potential to allow them greater freedom of movement. The new device runs on batteries and was conceived to operate continually for four to eight hours. It tested successfully in eight patients with end-stage kidney failure, who appreciated the experience. Even though the new portable artificial kidney in this trial has a slower rate of blood flow compared to the classic artificial kidney, it is able to clear small molecules, such as urea and creatinine, just as well as the classic model. As longer sessions would be better for a patient’s system, the masterminds behind this new artificial kidney are currently attempting to increase the device’s hours of operation to a period of 24 hours.
The artificial kidney prototype is likely one of the first steps preceding the creation of smaller and portable haemodialysis devices. This wonderful achievement will undoubtedly improve the quality of live of thousands of people across the country. Definitely a significant step in the right direction!