Hello ‘Wearable Kidney’; Goodbye Dialysis Machine?

August was a big month for the BigD community. Early in the month, Dr. Christopher Chan, medical director of Home Hemodialysis at Toronto General Hospital’s University Health Network announced the results of a study of 1,239 patients over 12 years that showed that kidney patients who received home hemodialysis treatments lived as long as those who got kidney transplants from donors.

As has been found before, the study confirms that the more often the dialysis, the better the cardio-vascular health (weight is stable, which reduces impact on the heart) and quality of life.

Building on this desirability of regular or even continuous dialysis came a breakthrough on August 20: the Wearable Artificial Kidney. The press release, titled “HELLO ‘WEARABLE KIDNEY,’ GOODBYE DIALYSIS MACHINE” states:

“Our vision of a technological breakthrough has materialized in the form of a Wearable Artificial Kidney, which provides continuous dialysis 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Victor Gura, MD (David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA).

The device—essentially a miniaturized dialysis machine, worn as a belt—weighs about 10 pounds (4.5kg) and is powered by two nine-volt batteries. Because patients don’t need to be hooked up to a full-size dialysis machine, they are free to walk, work, or sleep while undergoing continuous, gentle dialysis that more closely approximates normal kidney function.

See the belt and how it is worn:

Anyone working in construction will feel quite at home.

Anyone working in construction will feel quite at home.

looks like the access is via a PermaCath (you can just see the tape).

Looks like the access is via a PermaCath (you can just see the tape).

Such a device could lead to a “paradigm change” in the treatment of dialysis patients. Despite enduring long hours on dialysis every week—with major limitations in activities, diet, and other areas of life—dialysis patients face high rates of hospitalization and death. The U.S. dialysis population currently exceeds 400,000, with costs of over $30 billion per year. “We believe that the Wearable Artificial Kidney will not only reduce the mortality and misery of dialysis patients, but will also result in significant reduction in the cost of providing viable health care,” says Gura.

The Wearable Artificial Kidney is successful in preliminary tests, including two studies in dialysis patients. The new study provides important information on the technical details that made these promising results possible.

“However, the long-term effect of this technology on the well-being of dialysis patients must be demonstrated in much-needed clinical trials,” adds Gura. “Although successful, this is but one additional step on a long road still ahead of us to bring about a much-needed change in the lives of this population.”

The WAK uses several innovations, including a pulse pumps that operate quite differently from the current roller pump technology. Where possible they have used standard off-the-shelf components.

A little fuzzy, but readable on the Paper, which also has a blow-by-blow description of operation.

A little fuzzy, but readable on the Paper, which also has a blow-by-blow description of operation.

Here’s the schematic from the paper.

Still, the results are very encouraging. It looks a little clunky now, but so did the first TV, computer and mobile phone.

Obviously there are still many questions: What kind of access would enable continuous, 24/7 use? What would it cost (the current estimate is “less than the current machines” and the monthly consumables ‘below the current sums spent”. How would this disruptive technology impact the current approach?

From a personal level: Is it the Can I get involved in a trial? When can I have one?

For more information on “Technical Breakthroughs in the Wearable Artificial Kidney (WAK),” the article is available online at the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology for a mere US$22.  The Press Release is here.

9 thoughts on “Hello ‘Wearable Kidney’; Goodbye Dialysis Machine?

  1. This move towards a WAK reminds me that we are always striving to improve/invent better ways and this human desire is so useful…imagine if we just sat back and said ok we have invented an artificial way to replace the kidney…that will do…and this is true for so many medical discoveries (bionic ear, treatments for disease, trauma response) …hopefully this clever invention will benefit many…Marg

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  2. Pingback: Happy Birthday Dialysis – you don’t look a day over 60 « Big D and Me

    • Honeygodooo9, you are right. Apart from actually cleaning the blood, the other main challenge is access. One of their original designs used peritoneal dialysis (tube into the stomach wall), but this version of the WAK seems to offer haemodialysis, so there needs to be almost continuous access to a major artery or the fistula. The current pic looks like access is via a permcath or central line, but this is not practical in the long term. Wait and see I suppose…

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  3. dialyblog thanks for the reply.im on peritonial dialysis and idea of going back to hemodialysis give nightmares!! only coz of access. my three fistulas have already failed.and i can hardly tollrate my thighs hooked to the machine everytime(i shud rather die!!). but with continuous access things can change completely.so do u have more insight into new n advance techniques of long term or cont access? any clue?

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  4. Pingback: Dialysis: Back to the future with implantable artificial kidney | Big D and Me

  5. The only folk that would not like this invention have not gone thru,or know …any loved ones who have had kidney failure…..It’s a miserable existence….I watched my father wither away for 7 years…..anything would be an improvement!

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