This Bioartificial Organ Could One Day Save ‘Millions’ Living With Kidney Disorders

Scientists won a $650,000 prize for the successful demonstration of the prototype

A digital illustration of what the bioartifical kidney device looks like inside the body
The device includes a hemofilter made up of silicon semiconductor membranes that remove waste products from blood and a bioreactor containing renal tubule cells that regulate water volume, electrolyte balance and other metabolic functions. The Kidney Project

For patients with kidney failure, dialysis is a double-edged sword: while offering the promise of sustained life, it is an invasive procedure that is also dangerous, sometimes causing bone disease, high-blood pressure and heart failure.

A new device is offering hope for those requiring dialysis. Currently being developed by The Kidney Project, this bioartificial kidney implant could free patients from dialysis machines and even kidney transplants.

Last week, scientists won a $650,000 prize for the successful demonstration of a working prototype—moving the device a step closer to potentially changing the lives of millions of people suffering from life-threatening kidney diseases.

The effort is led by Shuvo Roy, a bioengineer and professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and William Fissell, a doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The project includes scientists, engineers and clinicians from across the United States.

“Our team engineered the artificial kidney to sustainably support a culture of human kidney cells without provoking an immune response,” Roy tells Jannat Un Nisa of the Wonderful Engineering website. “Now that we have demonstrated the feasibility of combining the hemofilter and bioreactor, we can focus on upscaling the technology for more rigorous preclinical testing, and ultimately, clinical trials.”

KidneyX, a public-private collaboration between the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology, awarded the $650,000 prize to The Kidney Project after the demonstration showed that how the new bioartifical kidney implant works without the need for the immune-suppressing drugs or blood thinners typically required with transplants, reports Michael Irving of New Atlas.

Healthy kidneys are crucial for filtering toxins and waste products from the blood and controlling blood pressure, electrolyte concentrations and other internal fluids. Replicating these processes for medical treatment is costly, difficult and not without hazard to patients.

This new implantable device overcomes many of the obstacles that have plagued researchers in the past. It includes a hemofilter made up of silicon semiconductor membranes that remove waste products from blood and a bioreactor containing renal tubule cells that regulate water volume, electrolyte balance and other metabolic functions. These membranes also protect cells from being rejected by the patient’s immune system.

“This award is a testament to The Kidney Project’s bold vision and execution of a viable solution for millions of patients with kidney failure,” UCSF School of Pharmacy's Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo says in an official statement.