According to the latest statistics, there are around two million people in the world who are currently being treated for end-stage renal disease or chronic kidney disease. Because of modern lifestyles that are growing substantially unhealthier in terms of diets and physical activity, it’s no wonder that the cases for renal disease continue to rise. And this is definitely not a good thing. Statistics have also told us that that chronic renal disease is one of the biggest killers in the world. Given that there are more and more people whose kidneys are failing, there has also been a surge in demand for kidney donors and transplants. Unfortunately, the supply of kidneys for transplants hasn’t exactly been able to meet those demands. Naturally, this is because not a lot of people would be so willing to let go of one of their kidneys to give to another person.
Studies show that in 2016, there were only around 21,000 kidneys that were available for transplant in the United States alone. However, the waiting list for kidney disease patients had amounted to around 100,000. That resulted in valuable waiting time for these patients; time that they did not necessarily have. Of course, the body can only function for so long if it doesn’t have a properly working kidney. There are so many kidney disease patients who don’t have the five to ten years that is required for them to wait for a kidney to be available.
So, in order to prolong their lives, these kidney patients have to undergo dialysis. Essentially, a dialysis machine is a piece of medical equipment that is designed to function as an artificial kidney that operates outside of the body. As you may already know, the kidney is the organ that is responsible for cleansing the blood that flows through the body. People who have chronic kidney disease are typically people who have kidneys that aren’t functioning properly or aren’t functioning at all. As a result, the blood that flows through their body isn’t properly cleansed and so the human body gets filled up with a lot of toxins. These toxins can be very harmful to the body and it can potentially lead to multiple organ failure.
In order for patients with chronic kidney disease to prolong their lives, they need to be hooked up to these dialysis machines. What this apparatus can do is that it takes all of the blood that is in a patient’s body and cleanses it for them. Typically, dialysis sessions can take for around 3 to 4 hours depending on the severity of the patient’s condition. And these dialysis sessions are usually undertaken around once to thrice a week. In the most extreme cases, some kidney disease patients are hooked up to the dialysis machines every single day.
Of course, there are many disadvantages to dialysis. For one, it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, which is the failing kidney. Next, it takes up too much time away from a patient. Imagine having to spend so many hours of your week just being hooked up to a machine. It takes away from your productivity and quality of life. Lastly, dialysis can be very expensive. The cost of these individual sessions can really add up. Not to mention that they require lots of heavy medication too.
This is why numerous people are leading the charge to make dialysis obsolete for kidney patients. The Kidney Project, a national network of experts in the field, are working together to develop a bio-artificial kidney that could be implanted in kidney patients. This would both address the supply-chain issue for kidney transplants, and it would provide another alternative for dialysis patients.
The device was first revealed in November 2019 at the American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week. The leader of the project, Shuvo Roy, from the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, had this to say of the emerging technology:
“This is the first demonstration that kidney cells can be implanted successfully in a large animal without immunosuppression and remain healthy enough to perform their function. This is a key milestone for us. Based on these results, we can now focus on scaling up the bioreactor and combining it with the blood filtration component of the artificial kidney.”
The actual device contains an artificial blood filtration system called a hemofilter. It serves the same purpose as the filters that are found in the dialysis machines. Currently, the device is not yet available to the public, but it is undergoing various processes to attain FDA approval for a clinical trial. There are various moving parts, but there are still plenty of things to do.
“Advancing a complex cell therapy like this into the clinic will not be a trivial task — for instance, it will require substantial investments in cell production and characterization in controlled GMP facilities to avoid any possibility of contamination. Now we’ve confirmed that we’re on the right track to move forward with these efforts,” lamented Roy.