Scientists on Tuesday announced the first successful animal tests with an implantable device that represents a key step towards an artificial kidney that could someday eliminate the need for dialysis in patients with kidney failure.
A Bangladesh-born bioengineer and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, have shown that kidney cells in an implantable device survived in a pig for seven days, mimicking several key kidney functions.
The scientists say their study provides the “first proof of concept” of an implantable bioreactor that sustains human kidney cells in a pig model without being attacked by the recipient’s immune system.
After implantation into pigs, the cells maintained over 90 per cent viability and functionality, the researchers said, describing their work in a paper published on Tuesday in the research journal Nature Communications.
“We are focused on safely replicating the key functions of a kidney,” Shuvo Roy, a professor of bioengineering at the UCSF School of Pharmacy, said in a media release issued by the university. “The bioartificial kidney will make treatment for kidney disease more effective and much more tolerable and comfortable,” said Roy. Their goal is to develop a bioreactor with kidney cells that perform critical functions — such as balancing the body’s fluids and releasing hormones that help regulate blood pressure — and pair it with a device that filters waste from the blood.
Current treatment options for kidney failure include dialysis and transplants. But not enough organs are available for transplants and, the scientists say, dialysis partially replaces kidney cell functions and most dialysis patients develop long-term complications.
The scientists caution that their proof-of-concept stage technology will need to be upgraded with more cells to achieve an expanded array of kidney functions for it to serve as an option to replace dialysis. The bioreactor they tested had about 10 million cells and the number would need to be increased 100-fold to a billion cells to move closer to how the kidney functions.