In an Aug 2010 blog post, I discussed the prospects for regenerative medicine to alleviate the shortage of transplantable organs. Regenerative medicine usually starts with an organ obtained from deceased donors. But the organ itself isn’t used. Instead the cells are removed and the remaining scaffold is seeded with stem cells to create a new organ. Near the end of that blog post I mentioned that there was work being performed by David Hume and others at the Univ. of Michigan to produce an external device that could perform some of the endocrine functions of a kidney. It would supplement an external dialyzer to provide complete kidney function for a patient with end-stage renal disease.

Recently, Univ. California, San Francisco issued a press release stating that Shuvo Roy and other researchers in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences have reduced the size of both devices by using a combination of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and human kidney cells. Their prototype is about the size of a coffee cup, or similar in size to a kidney. They hope the device will be implantable, leading to a portable, artificial kidney. Much work remains and they don’t expect clinical trials to begin for another five to seven years. Yet, the promise is great. Such a device could help improve the medical outcomes and quality of life of all patients with ESRD, meaning both those waiting for a transplant and those who would otherwise receive dialysis therapy.


Artificial kidney. Video from UCSF

[Update: Replaced the cutaway view with a video.]