Imagine having to spend several hours on dialysis – in a hospital, multiple days a week, connected to a machine that filters toxins from your blood. Over 660,000 Americans are currently battling end-stage renal disease (ESRD), or kidney failure, and receive dialysis treatments to survive.
This puts a huge strain on kidney patients’ ability to work, volunteer and participate in day-to-day activities. As a result, some ESRD patients have the option of home hemodialysis, giving them the ability to dialyze at home. This affords patients more flexibility with their treatment schedules; they can either do more frequent but shorter treatments or less frequent, longer treatments. Patients can even dialyze while they are sleeping. Unfortunately, home hemodialysis is more expensive than dialyzing in traditional specialty centers, and patients remain immobile when receiving the treatment.
However, recent technological advancements have contributed to the invention of a wearable artificial kidney (WAK) – a lightweight device that a patient wears around their waist as they undergo dialysis. Studies show that more frequent dialysis treatment is associated with improved health, and the wearable kidney allows patients to undergo dialysis continuously while freely moving and engaging in everyday activities. In effect, the WAK is the closest simulation a machine can get to performing like real functional kidneys.
Currently, five wearable artificial kidneys are in development, and one team in Washington state is among the first to help develop this treatment method.
“The WAK could be the most significant technology advance since the development of the long-term dialysis methods in the 1960s,” said Jonathan Himmelfarb, M.D., University of Washington professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology in a statement.
Unfortunately, the WAK will not be available to the public for several years, as researchers are continuing to make improvements, and clinical trials still need to be conducted. In the meantime, learn more about this upcoming and life-changing technology at the National Kidney Foundation’s Patient and Community Education Symposium on March 18 in Portland, Oregon. We look forward to seeing you there!