Kidneys are an important part of the human body -- as the body's filtration system, they keep harmful pollutants from building up in the blood stream and causing problems which can, if left untreated, become fatal. When kidneys fail, modern medical technology generally relies on dialysis.
Hemodialysis is typically the common means of treatment, and it involves externally removing toxins from the blood via machinery. The process takes four hours, three times weekly, causing a great deal of stress in the patient's life and body. As the treatment only occurs every few days, harmful substances build up in the blood stream, and when they are all filtered out in the span of several hours, along with the addition of anticoagulants used to prevent filtering blood from clotting, it causes a shock to the patient's body.
However, thanks to Martin Roberts and David B. N. Lee of the UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, cumbersome dialysis may be a thing of the past for many patients. They have designed a peritoneal, wearable kidney which could replace the function of a patient's own failing organs.
There are many benefits to the automated, wearable artificial kidney, or AWAK. Foremost is that rather than spending hours on a machine several times a week; much like a regular kidney, the AWAK functions continuously. This will allow patients to go about their lives in a much more unaffected manner than presently available.
Another is the efficiency of the device. Typically, dialysate, the fluid of pollutants and other chemicals removed from blood during dialysis, is simply disposed. The AWAK can reuse the fluid and proteins contained in the dialysate, reducing protein and eliminating water loss during the filtration process.
"Dialysis-on-the-go, made possible by AWAK's 'wearability' and automation, frees end-stage renal failure patients from the servitude that is demanded by the current dialytic regimentations," stated Robert and Lee in a Clinical and Experimental Nephrology article about the device. Certainly the device will improve the quality of life for many dialysis patients should it see widespread use.