Around 570,000 people suffer from chronic kidney failure in the US alone and there were only 16,812 kidneys available for transplant last year. The rest of the patients were on a waiting list, which is certainly a death sentence for many. But in the future, mechanical kidneys might save the lives of those who are anxiously waiting for a real organ.
An artificial kidney has been in the works at UCSF and nine other labs for years, and the project has been selected for FDA’s Innovation Pathway this month. If it’s a success, artificial kidneys, which hopefully will be affordable, will allow patients to live without dialysis and also without immune suppressing drugs that are used to make sure that the body does not reject transplanted kidneys.
The artificial kidney will perform the water-balancing and metabolic functions just like a real kidney via lab-grown cells and there will be nanofilters for removing blood toxins. And there won’t be any need for pumps or external power as the body’s blood pressure is enough to get the job done.
But the machine won’t be that perfect. For example, it can’t produce a kidney chemical called erythropoietin. But there is a drug for that, and also artificial kidneys can last indefinitely, the only requirement is that new cells may have to be implanted every 2 years. The average lifespan of a real transplanted kidney is 10 to 12 years.
But the mechanical one may not put an end to the transplant waiting list anytime soon, although it will surely be a blessing for many who are suffering. A clinical trial is expected to begin in 2016.