Artificial Kidney: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

FRESNO, Calif.

It's a routine that's getting old for David Anderson. Sitting in this chair for hours on end is not how he'd prefer to spend his days.

"It's about five hours a day of coming and going, really, three times a week, " David Anderson, kidney failure patient, told Ivanhoe.

Anderson suffers from kidney failure and needs dialysis to survive. It's a process that cleans out blood but takes its toll on patients.

"It's uncomfortable to sit here for such a long time," Anderson said.

The therapy only replaces about 10 percent of kidney function. After five years, just 35 percent of patients are still alive.

"It's actually really sad. I have a lot of patients. I think all nephrologists have a lot of patients that die regularly," Lynda Frassetto, M.D., Nephrologist, Professor of Medicine at UCSF in San Francisco.

A kidney transplant is a better option. The problem? Last year, only 17 thousand of the 85 thousand patients on the waiting list received an organ.

But the artificial kidney could soon be a solution. Researchers at UC San Francisco hope to implant the device right in the body. Thousands of microscopic filters mimic the filtering role of a real kidney. One side filters out toxins while the other re-absorbs salt and water and emits waste. The body's own blood pressure performs the filtration without the need for a power supply.

"Because it's implanted and provides many of the same benefits of a transplant, the patient quality of life, the patient health, will be improved," Shuvo Roy, Ph.D.,

Bioengineer at the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at UCSF in San Francisco said.

The surgery will cost the same as a kidney transplant, but this device is designed to completely eliminate the 75 thousand per year spent on dialysis for each patient. A room-sized model of the artificial kidney has been used for over a decade. Now, engineers are trying to fit that into adevice the size of a coffee cup.

"I'd sign up now if I could," Anderson said.

Until then he'll wait, hoping medicine will soon get him out of this chair and onto more exciting adventures.

Another benefit is patients wouldn't need to take the immune-suppressant drugs like they do with a transplant. Researchers hope the artificial kidney will be in clinical trials in the next five years.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

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