Scientists take significant step in developing bionic kidney

22 November 2016

Scientists and engineers have taken a significant step in developing a bionic kidney that could be placed in the bodies of patients. They have tested a "living membrane" made with human cells that would be at the heart of a functional artificial kidney implant.

Creating a semi-permeable surface capable of selectively filtering out waste molecules in much the same manner as a kidney does had been a major challenge. The team cultured cells from the human kidney and attached them to the surfaces of artificial hollow structures.

Tests showed that the cell layer functioned as a living membrane and scientists hope such devices would one day replace kidney transplants and bulky dialysis machines that filtered the blood of patients with kidney failure.

Patients of kidney disease have to usually undergo dialysis which involves regular trips to hospital. In 2012 over 27,000 people in the UK were undergoing dialysis according to the National Kidney Federation.

With such devices scientists aim to one day do away with kidney transplant.

At the end of 2012, over 6,000 UK patients were on the transplant list waiting for a kidney.

Lead researcher Dr Dimitrios Stamatialis, from the University of Twente, in The Netherlands, said in a statement, "This study shows the successful development of a living membrane, an important step towards the development of a bio-artificial kidney device." 

"The strategies and methods of this work could be relevant to the development of other bioartificial organs, such as a bioartificial liver or bioartificial pancreas, and organs on chips-such as a kidney on chip, a lung on chip, or a liver on chip."

According to the scientists, the bioartificial kidney would benefit millions of patients suffering from kidney failure, as it would replace the need for dialysis or transplantation. In the US alone 26 million  American adults had kidney disease - and most were not aware of it. According to the National Kidney Foundation, two of the leading causes of kidney disease were high blood pressure and diabetes.

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