Every year at least two million people across the United States of America (USA) go through the painful process that is dialysis. They sit for hours even as they are hooked on to a dialysis machine that whirrs, blinks, and cleans their blood. The only alternative that they have is to find a new kidney and transplant it on to their bodies or perish.
In the USA the dialysis industry is estimated to be worth in the region of 40 billion dollars. It has kept alive around 468,000 people with chronic renal diseases. The process is not perfect at all – in fact, it is far from being so. However, this lack of perfection has not come in the way of how well the industry has grown over the years. Much of the credit, in this case, goes to the Medicare program that is mandated by the federal government. As per this arrangement, any American can avail dialysis treatment and also not pay a single cent for the same. It does not matter how old she or he is or even how rich or poor she or he is.
The legal coverage has saved thousands of lives till date – there can be no doubt about it. This program was started 45 years back. However, the history of special treatment of this procedure has also meant that not much innovation has happened in this regard. The US government is known to spend around 5000 percent more on the private companies that provide these services than on research in kidney disease that can actually make a bigger difference by improving treatments and finding new cures to this ailment. Such is the funding atmosphere that the scientists have not been able to make much progress in this regard. They still need to depend on the strip malls and storefronts filled with dialysis machines. It also goes without saying that they have played a vital role to so many of the sickest people in the country.
However, now a team of researchers and doctors have come close to making some headway in this regard following 20 years of hard work. They are expected to offer patients an artificial kidney that can be implanted. This is basically a bionic device that is a lot similar to the chips that are used to run your smartphones and laptops. With this technology, nanopore filters – made from silicon and designed carefully – would fuse with live kidney cells.These kidney cells would be grown in a bioreactor. The bundle would then be enclosed in a box that would be compatible with the human body and it would be connected to the bladder and the circulatory system of the patient. No additional tubing would be needed in these cases.
The device would be performing a number of functions than just detaching dialysis patients. On an average, compared to the normal people of America, patients who take dialysis go through higher levels of fatigue, depression, and chronic pain. Much of this boils down due to the tough treatment schedule required in such programs. It would address those issues.
This device is also expected to address another key problem – the lack of adequate organs for the purpose of transplant. This problem persists in spite of the fact that the recent times have seen an increase in organ donations across the country. The ratio in the USA of people who get organs that they need as opposed to those who do not is 1 to 5. In fact, 40,000 such people have lost their lives as well.
As far as human testing is concerned there are still plenty of regulatory issues that have to be addressed. It is expected that human testing would start at some time in early 2018. However, this bio-artificial kidney comes as a major beacon of hope to people who are now desperate to let go of the hooks. This is where it is expected that this device would play such a major role by providing these hapless people the respite that they have been looking for so long in their lives.