This new artificial kidney could change the future of organ transplants: ScienceAlert
Currently, treatments for kidney failure involve spending hours on a dialysis machine, or a donor transplant – which is rare. But there is hope that there is a new option in the not-too-distant future: artificial kidney transplantation.
Scientists have developed a bioreactor device that uses human kidney cells grown in a laboratory and mimics some of the key functions of the kidney. It has been successfully tested on pigs for a week without any apparent side effects or problems.
The team, led by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), hopes their device can be adapted to include a wider range of kidney cell types, and be paired with another tool to filter waste from the blood.
“We are focused on safely replicating the key functions of the kidney,” says bioengineer Shuvo Roy of the University of California, San Francisco.
“The bioartificial kidney will make the treatment of kidney disease more effective as well as more comfortable and tolerable.”
To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, more than half a million people in the United States alone need dialysis treatment several times a week. Only about 25,000 kidney transplants are performed each year, often accompanied by harsh drug treatments to ensure the body does not reject the new kidney.
Importantly, there were no indications that the bioreactors stimulated the pigs’ immune systems. Scientists have installed silicone membranes to help protect kidney cells from attack and keep the tiny machine running quietly and efficiently in the background, like a pacemaker, for example.
The device, which connects directly to blood vessels and veins, is made from human proximal tubule cells; They are responsible for managing water and salt levels in the body and were used as a test case in this study. These cells have previously shown promising results in treating kidney failure in human patients.
We’re still a long way from having a bioreactor device like this working in human patients, of course, but the early signs are promising. Next will come animal trials for a month, and if successful, the green light should be given to start testing the device on real people with kidney failure.
Scientists are also busy considering other options, such as the feasibility of transplanting animal organs into human patients. Regardless of the approach, the goal is the same: to save the lives of people with kidney failure.
“We needed to prove that a functional bioreactor would not require immunosuppressive drugs, and we did that,” says Roy. “We had no complications and can now replicate to reach a full panel of kidney function at a human level.”
The research has been published in Nature Communications.