A nephrologist and associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. William H. Fissell IV is currently experimenting with an implantable artificial kidney with microchip filter that is powered by a patient’s own heart, freeing a kidney patient from the rigors of dialysis.
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“We are creating a bio-hybrid device that can mimic a kidney to remove enough waste products, salt and water to keep a patient off dialysis,” said Fissell.
Fissell revealed that the device is based on silicon nanotechnology that is also utilized by computer component suppliers in the microelectronics industry. The microchips are made to work with living kidney cells because each pore of the filter has been designed to function in a particular way – with 15 microchips layered on top of each other on the device.
There is a scaffold that contains living kidney cells within the microchips, and the kidney cells grow on and around the filters of the microchip where they imitate a real kidney.
“We can leverage Mother Nature’s 60 million years of research and development and use kidney cells that fortunately for us grow well in the lab dish, and grow them into a bioreactor of living cells that will be the only ‘Santa Claus’ membrane in the world: the only membrane that will know which chemicals have been naughty and which have been nice. Then they can reabsorb the nutrients your body needs and discard the wastes your body desperately wants to get rid of,” Fissell explained.
Since the microchip is made in a manner that cannot make it rejected by the body’s immune response, the patient’s body cannot reject it and it works with a patient’s blood flow. “Our challenge is to take blood in a blood vessel and push it through the device. We must transform that unsteady pulsating blood flow in the arteries and move it through an artificial device without clotting or damage,” Fissell disclosed.
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The National Institutes of Health awarded a four-year, $6 million grant to Fissell and his research partner Shuvo Roy from the University of California at San Francisco. The National Kidney Foundation says more than 460,000 Americans have end-stage renal disease and every day, 13 people die waiting for a kidney.