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Tens of thousands of Americans are on the verge of death but are unable to get kidney transplants.  (Source: Pakistani Kidney Institute)

A new coffee-cup sized artificial kidney uses cutting edge nanotechnology and live-cell bioreactors to potentially offer a viable alternative to full-organ replacement.  (Source: UCSF)
Goal is to shrink implant to the size of a coffee cup

Add kidneys to the list of organs -- including heartseyeballs, and penises -- which researchers hope to soon be able to replace with bioengineered or synthetic alternatives.

H. David Humes, MD and his team at the University of Michigan Department of Internal Medicine have created an artificial kidney, using a mix of living cells and synthetic biocompatible materials.  The only problem is that it's the size of a small room.

Dr. Humes is working with Shuvo Roy, PhD, a member of the the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, to use silicon fabrication techniques to shrink the device to an implantable size.  Such a device could save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of victims of kidney failure whose long wait for organ donors often proves fatal.

One section of the artificial kidney consists of micro filters, that selectively expel metabolic wastes from the blood stream.  A secondary part consists BioCartridge of renal tubule cells that further mimic the metabolic and water balance functionality of a biological kidney.

Professor Roy, who teaches at the UCSF School of Pharmacy which specializes in developing micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology for biomedical applications, says the project's ambitious objective is to shrink the massive device to the size of a coffee cup.

The team hopes to be able to implant the device without the need for anti-rejection therapies by making it as biocompatible as possible.  For anyone who's taking biomedical engineering course-work on a graduate level or done biomedical research, it's instantly apparent that this is an ambitious, but perhaps impossible objective in the short term, given the body's propensity to encase or otherwise adversely respond to even relatively biocompatible artificial materials.

Still, Professor Roy is hopeful, stating, "This device is designed to deliver most of the health benefits of a kidney transplant, while addressing the limited number of kidney donors each year.  This could dramatically reduce the burden of renal failure for millions of people worldwide, while also reducing one of the largest costs in U.S. healthcare."

Chronic kidney failure, also known as end-stage renal disease, affects approximately 500,000 Americans a year.  The disease tends to be directly caused diabetes and hypertension and given Americans' growing girth (which increases ones propensity to these diseases) it is perhaps unsurprising that the number of afflicted is rising 5 to 7 percent annually.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, over 85,000 people are on an organ waiting list, but only 17,000 kidneys were donated last year.  An organ replacement is the only cure for kidney failure.

Currently 6 percent of Medicare funding, or roughly $25B USD, goes to treating renal failure.  The government contributes roughly $75,000 a year to fund dialysis treatments for each of some of the 350,000 individuals suffering from the disease.

Dialysis is an unpleasant experience, to say the least.  It require three 3 to 5 hour sessions a week and is exhausting to patients.  And it only replaces 13 percent of kidney function.  However, it's patients' only hope of survival at this point.

Only 35 percent of patients survive more than 5 years on dialysis.

Besides U of M and UCSF, 9 other teams of researchers are collaborating on the project, including teams from the Cleveland Clinic where Roy initially proposed the project, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio State University, and Penn State University.

Animal testing (implantation) of fabrication-shrunk models is already complete.  Now the challenge is to scale up those successes to a human-size device, which encompasses the functionality of the room-sized construct.

One underlying problem is that the diseases that cause kidney failure -- hypertension, diabetes, etc. -- tend to tax replacement organs and will likely stress the replacement implant as well.  Thus without fundamental lifestyle changes (diabetes management via insulin therapy, losing weight) the likely pricey implant may only prove a temporary fix.

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Pakistani Kidney Institute
By DigitalFreak on 9/7/2010 3:50:24 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if that kidney came from a guy lying in a bathtub of ice somewhere...

RE: Pakistani Kidney Institute
By Mitch101 on 9/7/2010 3:57:36 PM , Rating: 5
There has only been one confirmed story of that just before Steve Jobs got his.

RE: Pakistani Kidney Institute
By Proxes on 9/7/2010 4:52:48 PM , Rating: 1
Was that before or after his liver transplant?

RE: Pakistani Kidney Institute
By DigitalFreak on 9/7/2010 7:23:35 PM , Rating: 4
Don't even get me started on how someone with enough money can skip to the head of the transplant line by just hopping on a jet to another state.

By AnnihilatorX on 9/8/2010 2:34:40 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Pakistani Kidney Institute
By chagrinnin on 9/7/2010 5:37:29 PM , Rating: 3
I would hope that's the one being replaced. It's got a nasty leak.

By DigitalFreak on 9/7/2010 7:20:45 PM , Rating: 2
Looks like the blowout preventer failed.

strange goal
By invidious on 9/7/2010 5:09:06 PM , Rating: 4
Goal is to shrink implant to the size of a coffee cup
I would think shrinking it to the size of a human kidney would be the goal...

RE: strange goal
By AmbroseAthan on 9/7/2010 5:40:02 PM , Rating: 4
I actually just had a Kidney transplant (2 months ago) and am only 28, so will likely need another one in the future, so this is interesting news.

But kidneys on average are about the size of your fist, so a coffee cup is actually about the right size.

RE: strange goal
By AssBall on 9/7/2010 10:05:28 PM , Rating: 2
That was what I was thinking.

If I ever have to get a kidney replacement, I'll go for the house sized one though. Guess we will see what the price is like.

RE: strange goal
By marvdmartian on 9/8/2010 9:34:32 AM , Rating: 2
Sure would beat having to haul a trailer around behind you, wouldn't it? ;)

In the mean time lets....
By ValorMorghulis on 9/8/2010 1:50:01 AM , Rating: 3
Hopefully they will make a breakthrough on these kidneys soon but until they do there are still sick people who need kidneys. I'm not exactly sure on the statistics (especially on what percentage of donated kidneys are discarded), but about 2/3s of US kidney transplants were from deceased donors (wikipedia). Now tells us that about 87 million Americans are organ donors. Approximately 1/3 of the over 18 population (37%). Imagine if we tripled the number of available kidneys (I'm making an assumption here that people who are not organ donors are approximately as likely to die and have healthy kidneys as current organ donors).

It just seems to be a tragedy that there aren't enough kidney's to go around when there should be. I personally would advocate that it be mandatory but I know thats politically untenable so maybe turn it into an opt out instead of opt in system? I would guess that there are people out there who aren't organ donors just because they are too lazy or confused by the forms/information.

Anyways, it just seems like a cheap, easy and moral way to save lives and money (dialysis is way more expensive than post transplant care according to wikipedia).

RE: In the mean time lets....
By JediJeb on 9/8/2010 1:45:06 PM , Rating: 2
What is the percentage of donated kidneys that are not compatible with those needing transplants?

By ValorMorghulis on 9/8/2010 6:03:43 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think its a matter of compatibility. Its an issue of whether the kidney is in acceptable condition. The deceased can't be too overweight, can't have diseases, can't have been dead too long, can't be too old etc.

By RugMuch on 9/7/2010 3:40:29 PM , Rating: 2
That guy has a huge ..... kidney!

RE: aaah
By roadhog1974 on 9/7/2010 6:24:08 PM , Rating: 4
That's not a moon.

Kidney replacements
By Queonda on 9/7/2010 4:53:22 PM , Rating: 2
So diabetics can still have their cake, and eat it too

RE: Kidney replacements
By stlrenegade on 9/7/2010 5:52:08 PM , Rating: 2
I think you are mixing up the kidney and the pancreas.

RE: Kidney replacements
By Queonda on 9/7/2010 10:06:12 PM , Rating: 2
I think not. "Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure, accounting for nearly 44 percent of new cases.1" Do some research.

In other news...
By lennylim on 9/7/2010 3:56:37 PM , Rating: 5
Researchers are optimistic about growing house-sized humans.

Gov't contribution
By fic2 on 9/7/2010 7:25:52 PM , Rating: 3
The government contributes roughly $75,000 a year to fund dialysis treatments for some of the 350,000 individuals suffering from the disease.

Hmmm, $75,000 split 350,000 ways - just a little over $0.21 each. Just doing the paper work and sending the checks is more than that.

RE: Gov't contribution
By ekv on 9/7/2010 10:27:45 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm, that ought to have been ...
The government contributes roughly $75,000 per individual per year to fund dialysis treatments for some of the 350,000 individuals suffering from the disease.

I think your math is closer to GAO's, however, and would explain certain gov't employees driving expensive cars w/ gold-plated cellphones, etc. You'd be surprised how expensive paper work is 8)

Artifical penis?
By PrinceGaz on 9/7/2010 7:14:52 PM , Rating: 2
Is an artificial penis (mentioned in the article) really necessary? I mean it's not essential to survival -- allegedly about half of all people alive today don't even have one!

RE: Artifical penis?
By Manch on 9/7/2010 10:07:41 PM , Rating: 2
HA! It may not be essential to survival but its essential to living.

grow a pair
By RaggedClaws on 9/8/2010 2:09:11 AM , Rating: 2
These machines are just crude stopgap measures. Nature has already designed the perfect kidney, all we need to do is learn how to coerce the body into growing a new one from stem cells.

By YashBudini on 9/10/2010 4:54:50 PM , Rating: 2
We've got to figure out how to make these things smaller!

Quote from a Japanese soldier trying to squeeze a large radio into the sub from "1941."

The ultimate office weapon
By rika13 on 10/4/2010 11:44:19 AM , Rating: 2
Looks like dude is going to throw it at someone.

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