Taking Steps Toward a Wearable Artificial Kidney

Recent efforts to grow human kidneys and other organs in the lab presented hope to millions of patients living with renal failure. However, scientists report that a much better hope, in form of a wearable kidney is in the works.

Challenges in getting a matching kidney from a willing donor and other complications are the reason researchers are considering these artificial solutions. Now, they have discovered a urea sorbent; that promises to boost progress toward the development of a more usable wearable artificial kidney.

The Increasing Dependence on Dialysis

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Records have it that millions of renal cases requiring kidney transplant have remained stuck due to lack of enough kidneys. As such, patients have to depend on dialysis sessions to help with the clearing of waste products from their body.

Dialysis as a treatment procedure requires patients to visit a clinic three times a week and get plugged into a machine for several hours to have it do the cleansing. Now because of demand, the scarcity of doctors and this equipment, this form of treatment is becoming very expensive to low-income families. Besides that, dialysis has been linked to continuous deterioration of the patient’s health.

In comparison, healthy kidneys do thorough filtering of the blood consistently, day and night without interfering with normal life. While dialysis on the other hand in not only cumbersome but since the body is ever creating waste, the three times visit is too little to keep the body optimally healthy.

The Artificial Kidney

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To counter those limitations, researchers are now eager to replace dialysis with a better technology—an artificial kidney that patients would be wearing all the time. To help get rid of waste from the body continuously.

The biggest challenge, though, is urea, one of the waste component that calls for a constant elimination of it to sustain the body’s nitrogen balance. The reason dialysis has been a go-to option is because it breaks urea using an enzyme, into ammonia-carbon dioxide. However, the amount of chemical or material needed for this process is way too much, heavy and uncomfortable to use for a wearable kidney. So Yury Gogotsi, Babak Anosori and their fellow researchers from the American Chemical Society chose to use a lighter material.

The New Approach of Dealing with Urea

The team turned to MXene, an emerging nanomaterial, and 2D nanosheets of metal carbides as their choice of materials to deal with urea. Now contrary to as expected, MXene doesn’t break down urea, it instead captures the whole compound by sandwiching occurring urea molecules inside its nanometer-thin layers. The work appears in this week’s issues of the journal ACS Nano.

The interesting part is that this new material is able to capture 94% of urea at normal room temperature from dialysis’s discarded material. It was also tested directly on the body and was found to hold much more urea at normal body temperatures.

Well, of cause everyone would be asking how safe this is, but according to additional tests, results confirmed that MXene did not harm body cells. So with that and all the above properties, the researchers believe this is what we have been waiting for to successfully make real the concept of a lightweight wearable artificial kidney; that would replace both dialysis and transplants.

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