Artificial Kidneys Offer Glimmer Of Hope To Dialysis Patients

artificial kidneys

Photo by North Dakota National Guard / CC BY

Dialysis is something that those with kidney failure are all too familiar with. With kidney disease being the 8th in line of death causing diseases in the United States, approximately 400,000 people are on dialysis at any given time. Put simply, dialysis is the process of removing toxins and excess water from the blood via an external filter and is usually performed by a dialysis technician. As one can imagine the process is uncomfortable and inconvenient, as the patient is forced to be hooked up to a machine. Depending on the severity of the disease, treatments could last for hours and could be required several times each week.

With all that being said, imagine the excitement of a patient when told that they may not have to be dependent upon a hospital machine any longer. Researchers at UC San Francisco are working to develop an artificial kidney that can be implanted and do the work of a dialysis machine. The small machine works the same as a traditional dialysis machine by acting as a filter and is powered from an individual’s own blood pressure.

Thousands of people die every year awaiting kidney transplants, and millions of individuals worldwide are nearing end-stage kidney failure. With so many people utilizing dialysis simply to stay alive a device such as this one could not only save lives, but also save millions of dollars in healthcare costs. The annual cost of dialysis for one individual could run as high as $82,000.00, most of which is covered by Medicare.

One would think that being able to save thousands of lives would be impetus enough for research money to be available, but the cost savings should be looked at as well. Literally billions of dollars of Medicare dollars could be put to use elsewhere if technologies such as this were made available more quickly. Fortunately the Food and Drug Administration has a new program designed to push technologies through the approval process more efficiently called the Innovation Pathway program. They currently have three devices in their program that are related to kidney disease with the intent to make these technology breakthroughs available to the public in a timely manner.