When a kidney failure occurs, a kidney transplant may be the last straw one can get. But it is still difficult for many patients to receive a transplant immediately. Many have to wait, wait, wait and take dialysis treatment, which can be bad for their long-term health.
Good thing is that this may soon be changed, as in the future, patients may be able to have an artificial kidney which is both healthy and affordable.
5 or 10 years of waiting for transplant
Nowadays, as the rates of kidney disease are growing quickly, nearly 750,000 Americans are suffering from end-stage renal disease, many of which need a kidney transplant to survive. This leads to an urgent shortage of kidneys for transplant.
As of 2016, 21,000 patients were able to get a transplant in the U.S., while 100,000 patients were waiting for transplant, which may require 5 to 10 years.
During their waiting, most patients have to undergo long-term dialysis treatment regularly in order to survive. Dialysis can help clear toxins from their blood, but it cannot replace many essential kidney functions. Patients remaining alive after five years’ dialysis count only 35% on average.
A milestone for kidney treatment
The UC San Francisco scientists have implanted an artificial kidney containing human kidney cells into pigs, without causing immune reaction or blood clots. The success of the experiment gets ready for future trials on human beings.
So, what are the benefits of this artificial kidney?
First, artificial kidney can do what dialysis can do, removing toxins from the blood with a blood filtration system. It can also replace many essential kidney functions with human kidney cells, including adjusting salt levels, maintaining blood pressure, and producing essential hormones.
Second, artificial kidney may be healthier than real kidney transplant. After transplant, patients have to take immune-suppressing drugs for life to prevent rejection, because the transplanted cells come from someone else.
"These drugs not only expose patients to infection and other harmful side-effects but have been shown to directly harm transplanted cells and organs, eroding the therapeutic benefit of transplants over time," said project co-leader Shuvo Roy. Artificial kidney may be able to reduce side effects.
Third, artificial kidney is more affordable for patients than kidney transplant and drugs.
Currently, Medicare in the U.S. covers dialysis for life, but only covers immune-suppressing drugs for three years after transplant. Many patients don’t have enough money to afford them after the first three years. Some even lose the new organ in the end. If Medicare can cover artificial kidney, it will benefit more people.
To conclude, scientists are planning to further study whether the artificial kidney can replace a failed kidney in animals. If it is successful, they may start human trials. In the foreseeable future, artificial kidney may really save millions of people.