Artificial Kidneys Are One Step Closer With New Filtration Device
Chemical engineering researchers from the University of Arkansas have brought the quest for an artificial kidney one step closer to reality, according to Singularity Hub.
Kidneys work to keep blood chemistry stable by “prevent[ing] waste buildup, stabiliz[ing] our electrolyte levels, and produc[ing] hormones to regulate our blood pressure and make red blood cells.”
Kidneys are complex, with over 1 million nephrons serving as filters “that let fluid and waste products through while blocking blood cells, proteins, and minerals.”
Though this system is incredibly difficult to recreate, researchers at the University of Arkansas successfully developed a device that can filter blood in a similar matter to nephrons.
Singularity Hub described the two filtration processes that take place in the kidneys:
First, clusters of blood vessels called glomeruli let small molecules, waste, and water through, while proteins and blood cells stay behind. The material that gets through this first filter then flows into the nephron network, where it’s further filtered in a process called ion transport.
This team of researchers focused on the second process, ion transport.
To emulate ion transport, “[Researchers] placed a porous mesh made of platinum between two ion-exchange wafers to create a wafer that pushes ions through membranes using an electric field. The platinum meshes serve as electrodes when voltage is applied, enabling the team to select different ions and adjust their transport rates independently. They tested the technology with various ions and were successfully able to mimic the ion transport done by the kidneys.”
The researchers noted in their paper, published in Nature Communications Materials, that achieving ion transport “using living, cell-based systems, including stem cells” has proven more difficult.
Christa Hestekin, lead author of the paper and associate professor of chemical engineering at Arkansas, said, “The system could work as a stand-alone device or in conjunction with peritoneal dialysis to control the chemistry of solutions used in treatment.”
Around 10 percent of the globe suffers from some type of kidney disease, including 37 million people in the United States. Each year, 100,000 people die in the United States awaiting a kidney transplant.
With 93,000 people in the US currently waiting for a kidney, the artificial nephron is one piece of the puzzle and a great step in the right direction.
By using chemical engineering instead of biological mechanisms, the Arkansas team may have a leg-up in the race to create artificial kidneys.