Local Team Makes Artificial Kidney

Posted at 6:09 PM, Feb 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 00:07:05-05

A team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is testing an artificial kidney.

Half a million people in the United States sit in a chair three times a week for 15 hours getting dialysis so they can live a couple years longer.

Jewell Brown has been getting dialysis since 2009.

“You’re always looking for the goal of getting that kidney or then finding a way so that you don't have to come and do the dialysis,” Brown said. 

Dr. William Fissell is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. He said they do their research for patients like Brown.

“There are only about 20,000 patients a year who receive a kidney transplant,” Fissell said.

He’s dedicated his life’s work to this project and he said it’s taken decades of research.

“In the 1980s is when I first met a dialysis patient when I was a paramedic in Boston,” Fissell said. “And the incredible courage and humanity of the patients that I cared for every day then, 30 years ago, and that I care for every day today drives this work forward."

Fissell said they use a microchip technology to dissect fluids inside the artificial kidney.

"These are probably things like the insides of your video camera, or the gyroscope in your iPhone. We've taken that technology and used it to make a miniature membrane that's small enough that it can fit inside a patient's body and efficient enough that it doesn't require big bulky pumps to circulate fluid around,” he added.

He said the challenge will be connecting the membrane to the patient’s blood vessels.

“We use the same engineering tools that, for example, people use to design jet liners,” Fissell said. “The computational fluid dynamics that allows you to predict exactly how much force of fluid will experience as it's moved from your aorta another artery through this artificial device."

They hope to test their innovation in humans by the end of 2017.