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At the University of California San Francisco, scientists have successfully tested an implantable artificial kidney that not only works like the natural organ but that also doesn’t require anti-rejection drugs.
In the device, blood is filtered through silicon membranes that remove waste. The blood then flows into a bioreactor of engineered cells that skims out nutrients, electrolytes, and other useful compounds and returns them to the bloodstream. What’s left becomes urine.
The silicon membranes also shield the bioreactor from the patient’s immune system, which otherwise would attack the engineered cells and spur the body to reject the new arrival.
Conventional organ transplants rely on a steady stream of drugs to quell the rejection.
The device connects through tubes to an artery bringing blood to the kidney, to another artery taking the filtered blood back out, and to the bladder.
The artificial kidney works on blood pressure alone and needs no mechanical pump to move fluids through it.
The research team had developed each of the bionic kidney’s two parts separately. Now they have been able to integrate them into a single, smoothly working unit.
TRENDPOST: As many as seven million people worldwide, including an estimated 800,000 in the U.S., have end-stage kidney disease requiring a transplant or dialysis, an invasive, mechanical blood-cleaning process typically requiring four hours, three times weekly, at designated centers.
In the U.S., the approximately 100,000 people needing a kidney transplant wait as long as four years for a suitable tissue-matched donated organ to appear. Many die before the right match comes along.
An artificial implantable kidney will abolish wait times and not only save lives, but also erase the average $72,000 annual cost for a typical dialysis patient and return those patients to productive lives.

The University of California San Francisco’s prototype artificial kidney.
Credit: The University of California San Francisco

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