Big step taken towards bionic kidney

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)


A significant step has been taken towards developing a bionic kidney that could one day potentially replace the need for dialysis or transplantation for the thousands of Australians with kidney failure.

With 1.7 million Australians living with signs of kidney disease, Kidney Health Australia believes the successful development of an artificial kidney would be a “game-changer”.

Dutch scientists and engineers have tested a “living membrane” made with human cells that would be at the heart of a functional artificial kidney implant.

The team used cultured cells from the human kidney and attached them to the surfaces of artificial hollow structures to create a semi-permeable surface that can selectively filter out waste molecules in the same way as a real kidney.

Tests showed that the cell layer functioned as a living membrane, with the exciting result presented at the American Society of Nephrology’s Kidney Week 2016 in Chicago.

Scientists hope such devices will one day replace kidney transplants and bulky dialysis machines that filter the blood of patients with kidney failure.

Dialysis, which usually involves regular trips to hospital, is often carried out before a transplant.

At the end of 2014, more than 12,000 Australians were receiving dialysis treatment – this represented a three per cent increase on the previous year – and more than 10,000 were living with a functional kidney transplant.

As of February 2016, just under 1100 Australians were waiting for a kidney transplant with most, 81 per cent, aged less than 60 years.

The average waiting time for a kidney transplant is three years, but can take as long as seven years.

Lead researcher Dr Dimitrios Stamatialis, from the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, says the successful development of a living membrane is an important step towards the development of a bio-artificial kidney device and other bio-artificial organs.

Currently there aren’t enough of the real kidneys to go around, says Kidney Health Australia CEO Mikaela Stafrace.

“The number of people who could benefit from bionic kidneys would be much greater than just those on the waiting list – it would enable those who wouldn’t even be considered for a transplant due to other health implications to have an option too,” she said.

Ms Stafrace says she’s been watching developments in this important research for many years.

“We know researchers are moving closer to a so-called bionic or artificial kidney, we don’t know the time-frame, but we do know it would be a game-changer for kidney patients,” Ms Stafrace said.


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