Regenerative medicine has a great potential for increasing people’s lives and improving their health. Creating artificial organs is an important area of regenerative medicine, because they can alleviate a lot of current health problems for people who need transplantations. This type of organs can ‘buy time’ until the tissue engineered organs are being developed.
The device, which would include thousands of microscopic filters as well as a bioreactor to mimic the metabolic and water-balancing roles of a real kidney, is being developed in a collaborative effort by engineers, biologists and physicians nationwide, led by Shuvo Roy, PhD, in the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.
The treatment has been proven to work for the sickest patients using a room-sized external model developed by a team member in Michigan. Roy’s goal is to apply silicon fabrication technology, along with specially engineered compartments for live kidney cells, to shrink that large-scale technology into a device the size of a coffee cup. The device would then be implanted in the body without the need for immune suppressant medications, allowing the patient to live a more normal life.
“This device is designed to deliver most of the health benefits of a kidney transplant, while addressing the limited number of kidney donors each year,” said Roy, an associate professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy who specializes in developing micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology for biomedical applications. “This could dramatically reduce the burden of renal failure for millions of people worldwide, while also reducing one of the largest costs in U.S. healthcare.”
The team has established the feasibility of an implantable model in animal models and plans to be ready for clinical trials in five to seven years.
End-stage renal disease, or chronic kidney failure, affects more than 500,000 people per year in the United States alone, and currently is only fully treated with a kidney transplant. That number has been rising between 5-7 percent per year, Roy said, in part because of the kidney damage associated with diabetes and hypertension.
Yet transplants are difficult to obtain: a mere 17,000 donated kidneys were available for transplant last year, while the number of patients on the transplant waiting list currently exceeds 85,000, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network.
The first phase of the project, which has already been completed, focused on developing the technologies required to reduce the device to a size that could fit into the body and testing the individual components in animal models. In the second and current phase, the team is doing the sophisticated work needed to scale up the device for humans. The team now has the components and a visual model and is pursuing federal and private support to bring the project to clinical use.
This is a perfect example of the work that is being done to address some of the most critical medical issues of our time, both in human and financial costs. This project shows what can be accomplished by teams of scientists with diverse expertise, collaborating to profoundly and more quickly improve the lives of patients worldwide.