Without a transplant, patients with kidney failure need dialysis to stay alive. Dialysis does a good job of cleaning the blood and removing extra fluid, but it takes a lot of time and can hurt a patient’s quality of life. Since the 1970s, doctors have been trying to make a dialysis machine that patients can wear. The hope has always been to free patients from a huge machine that keeps them tied down. But there were no parts small and light enough to make dialysis machines wearable -- until now.
Groups in the United States and other countries are doing studies on different types of wearable kidneys. These include devices for hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and one machine combines both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. These machines have small parts that weigh less, long lasting batteries, and filters that can reuse dialysate without the need for a lot of purified water. These advances make it possible for people to wear a dialysis device that isn’t very heavy and can be worn under clothing.
Aside from convenience, wearable kidneys can keep patients healthier. This is because they work around the clock just like real kidneys. This leads to better blood pressure control, less fluid weight gain with less stress on the heart, improved clearance of wastes from the blood, and a less strict diet. Getting dialysis while doing daily activities you would normally do if you weren’t on dialysis is life changing.
The only device to have been tested in humans is the WAK (wearable artificial kidney). Three human studies have been done so far with good success, and there are two more studies to go before it might be ready for the public. The latest version has a smaller battery that can be charged at night, and with fewer parts, it only weighs two pounds.
Although patients are eager to have access to a wearable kidney, it’s important that any problems found in earlier studies are fixed. This may take several more years, but you should stay tuned, because progress is being made every day!