If you have end-stage renal disease (ESRD), then you may have heard of the innovative new treatment in the works that uses an artificial kidney . Bring a ray of hope to those who have suffered waiting for a donor. Is this artificial body part the answer to a major medical dilemma?

Your kidneys are a feat of biological engineering that keeps your blood clean with countless tiny filters called nephrons. After filtration, they send the waste to the bladder to be eliminated as urine. Without your kidneys, your body would be poisoned and could not live.

Medical experts have expressed concern about the dangers of the Western lifestyle. They point to the alarming obesity epidemic caused by poor diet and lack of physical activity. All of these factors lead to an increase in chronic kidney failure and failure .

The relationship between kidney disease and other diseases

Did you know that recent reports show that at least 15 percent of adults in the US alone have kidney disease? The number is probably more significant because many people have poorly functioning kidneys that have not yet been diagnosed. Sadly, chronic kidney disease is among the top deadly diseases in the modern world.

Since your body systems are interrelated, it makes sense for a disorder in one to affect your entire body. The kidneys are not only part of your urinary system, but they are also a vital part of your circulatory system. Diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels will also cause kidney problems.

Hypertension

Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is a disease that puts too much pressure on the arteries and veins. Since your kidneys are the central station for blood filtration, its many nephrons are loaded with blood vessels that carry blood from one place to another. Hypertension can damage these blood vessels and lead to chronic kidney disease.

Diabetes

Chronic kidney disease and kidney failure are classic comorbidities of diabetes. Think of your blood vessels as water pipes. If your home’s water pipes become overloaded with silt and other sediment, it will eventually damage them.

If you have uncontrolled diabetes, the excess sugar in your blood will do the same to your blood vessels. It can clog or even block vital blood vessels in the kidneys, resulting in kidney damage and inadequate blood filtration.

Obesity

Obesity is a common denominator for both high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. It is perhaps the most preventable condition that can lead to end-stage kidney disease or kidney failure. A proper diet and exercise regimen can kill fat and minimize risks.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

If you have diabetes, hypertension, or other medical conditions, you may be at risk for chronic kidney disease or end-stage kidney failure. Some of these signs and symptoms overlap with other conditions, so you should see your GP for a proper diagnosis. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Change in appetite and unexplained weight loss.
  • Change in sleep patterns.
  • Edema in the hands, feet, or ankles due to water retention.
  • Dyspnoea (shortness of breath)
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Increased need to urinate, especially at night.
  • Constant itching of the skin.
  • Feeling dizzy or headaches
  • Lack of sexual performance in male patients.

There is no easy solution when your kidneys fail. When dialysis is no longer enough, kidney patients must rely on a transplant. These can be taken from a living donor or from a deceased organ donor.

Neither of these options is available largely because donor kidneys must be the perfect match for transplant surgery to be successful.

It is difficult to find living donors who give a kidney to a stranger, and not all people with viable kidneys that die are registered organ donors. It’s no wonder the waiting list for a kidney transplant is so long because the demand exceeds the supply.

Kidney patients often die while waiting for a transplant, as their bodies cannot live long without at least one properly functioning kidney. The wait for a kidney transplant can take years, and these patients do not have enough time. Even if they are lucky enough to undergo transplant surgery, they can die from organ rejection or other complications.

The evolution of kidney dialysis

If you have chronic kidney disease and your kidneys are failing, your only hope of survival is dialysis. In the 1940s, Dr. William Kolff invented the first dialysis machine and called it an ” artificial kidney .” After caring for his many kidney patients and observing their death rate, he correctly concluded that their blood could be artificially filtered to prolong their lives.

He brought his invention to the United States and presented it to the kidney specialists at Mt. Sinai Hospital. His work brought limited success to patients with kidney failure, but his artificial kidney machine was unable to help those with end-stage renal disease or ESRD.

Twenty years later, another kidney specialist named Dr. Belding Scribner built on Dr. Kolff’s work and devised an artificial kidney that could filter toxins from the blood of ESRD patients.

It worked through a port that drew blood from the patient’s arm through the filtering machine and then pumped the clean blood back to the patient. Scribner’s portable device allowed kidney patients to perform dialysis from the comfort of home.

Today, most people go to a dedicated dialysis center for treatment rather than doing the process at home. These centers are located in most of the major private hospitals and clinics in the United States.

People with kidney failure or end-stage renal disease usually receive 3- to 4-hour dialysis treatments at least one to three times a week and sometimes daily for severe cases.

The cons of kidney dialysis

Yes, this artificial kidney filtration can prolong the life of the kidney patient. However, it is a temporary treatment for symptoms and cannot cure kidney failure. If you are a dialysis patient, it is difficult to have a normal schedule because you are connected to the artificial kidney for hours a week.

Kidney patients must take many medications to minimize their symptoms, and some of these medications can have significant side effects.

Dialysis is an expensive treatment and most private insurance plans will only cover a percentage of the cost. The other percentage left for the patient to pay can be overwhelming and can cause serious financial problems.

The artificial kidney is simply a bandage for kidney failure and end-stage kidney disease. Of the estimated 468,000 Americans on dialysis each year, about 20-25 percent will survive their first year of treatment. Only about 35 percent will live more than five years.

The birth of bionics

For now, the only treatment options for patients with kidney disease is a transplant or dialysis . While the chances of survival are much better for transplant recipients, patients often die while waiting on the long list.

Dialysis can prolong the life of these patients, but they often lose quality of life and have a small margin of survival.

With dilemmas like these, advanced technology may be the key to a better solution. Remember the iconic TV show from the 1970s about the man and woman who were rebuilt with bionic parts? What was then science fiction is a reality in the 21st century.

Of course, current medical technology has yet to produce a super-powered human, but bionic parts have revolutionized health and medicine.

In 1982, the first artificial organ, a bionic heart, was successfully transplanted. Advances in bioengineering continue to find artificial solutions for other organ transplants, such as an artificial kidney.

Final thoughts on the artificial kidney project

You may have already heard of the conglomerate of American kidney experts and bioengineers called the Kidney Project if you are a kidney patient. Its goal is to replace traditional dialysis with a bionic kidney that is transplanted into the body of patients. It is a complex marriage of the human body and the machine that can offer quality of life and more time to kidney patients.

This innovative artificial kidney debuted during National Kidney Week at the American Society of Nephrology in November 2019. The Kidney Project focuses on the University of California-San Francisco Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine , with Shuvo Roy as project director. . Roy and his associates have a positive outlook on the success of the bionic kidney.

Instead of connecting kidney patients to a traditional dialysis machine, this artificial kidney will be surgically transplanted into their bodies. It will use high-tech filters to remove toxins from the blood, just like a human kidney.

The device is still in its development stage and may go into clinical trials with FDA approval, which experts hope will be soon.

Chronic kidney disease is serious and can affect your quality of life and even cause premature death. If the new artificial kidney is successful and approved, it may be a ray of hope for kidney patients around the world. If you follow a healthy lifestyle and have regular check-ups with your GP, you may be able to keep your kidneys happy and healthy for many years.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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