US: Wearable kidneys invented by LA scientists

Californian researchers are planning to help nurses in renal wards do something they have rarely done in their careers as nurses - work less hard. No, this is not a joke despite recent reports suggesting that the number of renal patients needing traditional dialysis will double by 2018. Sure, more people will need dialysis because of a bulging and aging population but, thanks to a new invention, patients may in future have access to portable dialysis.

Two researchers from the University of California Los Angeles have developed a design for an automated, wearable artificial kidney, (or the AWAK to quote its acronym), that avoids the complications patients often suffer with traditional dialysis machines.

The patent-approved design for the peritoneal-based artificial kidney is one that is truly portable because no blood circulates outside the body and it works in the same way that kidneys do - continuously.

With the new device, patients will no longer have to endure the 12-15 hours of hospital time for traditional dialysis; nor will they be at risk for the greater number of infections associated with it. Instead, the AWAK is worn around the upper body with compartments for the kidneys; it looks like a waistcoat with two small day-packs on either side of the belly.

Also, because the cleansing is continuous, patients are not exposed to shocks caused by fluctuating toxicity levels that occur with traditional dialysis.

The portable kidney also regenerates and reuses fluid and protein components in the spent dialysate (fluid that has abstracted toxins from the patient's blood) - currently discarded under traditional procedure - making it waterless, minimising or eliminating protein loss.

The AWAK was invented by Martin Roberts, an assistant professor of clinical medicine, and David BN Lee, a professor of medicine, both at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

Clinical trials are expected to begin next year. Roberts said: "What's really new about it is the patient's freedom. The next important thing is that because it's working all the time instead of intermittently, you can do a much better job of treating the patient. So we expect the patient to feel better and live longer."