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14th November 2014

Wear your health in a whole new way – a kidney on-the-go

There’s nothing new in wearables reinventing medicine and health. Smart watches, headbands, ankle monitors and fitbits are hitting headlines every week giving patients more information and data on their body than ever before.

And though I wouldn’t want to detract from the benefits some provide, for the moment it is difficult to find a wearable technology that  actually provides vital treatment.

A kidney on-the-go

In the UK alone, over 40, 000 people have some level of kidney failure and over 20,000 of them receive dialysis. For them, spending four hours every second day tied up to a big bulky machine is just part of their weekly routine.

Photo: “Hemodialysis machine”/Wikimedia Commons

In those hours, the dialyser, simply put, extracts the blood from the body, cleans it from waste, salt and excess water and then pumps it back in. It does what a healthy kidney should do.

“When you are hooked up to a 300-pound machine, hours on end, it’s like doing time..”

Dr Victor Gura, inventor of the wearable artificial kidney (WAK) set out to change the whole experience of dialysis.

“First, the freedom of movement. When you are hooked up to a 300-pound machine, hours on end, it’s like doing time. That’s how the patient feels. Second thing, freedom to eat and drink

Photo credit: Steven Brashear

Looking more like one of those tool belts you see at construction sites, the wearable artificial kidney weighs around 10 pounds and runs on batteries making it possible for patients to move around during dialysis.

Much of the dialyser is not at all that different from dialysis machines today – every component is right there on the belt, only in a miniaturized version.

What about the water?

As Dr Jonathan Himmelfarb from the research group said, one of the greatest challenges they had to solve was to be able to provide enough clean water.

In conventional dialysis, a four-hour dialysis will use 30 gallons (about 114 litres) of water. If you do you dialysis at home you use half a litre of water every minute.”

Obviously having a 10-pound portable dialysis belt is great but if you need to walk around with a tub full of purified water it doesn’t really pass the portability test. So the team at the University of Washington came up with an automated water purifier, which holds half a litre.

With an FDA nod just granted, human trials are coming up in Seattle this fall.

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Header Photo: Fotolia

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