Prof develops ‘wearable kidney’ at UCLA

(U-WIRE) The idea of someone’s blood being extracted from their body, filtered and returned while they are jogging, working or even making love may seem absurd to most.

To Victor Gura, an associate clinical professor at UCLA, this concept is very much a reality.

Gura has invented and is currently working on improving a device called a wearable artificial kidney that would make those suffering from kidney failure able to treat themselves on a continual basis.

Approximately 26 million people in the United States suffer from varying stages of chronic kidney disease, which can lead to end stage renal disease or total kidney failure, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The role of the kidney is to purify the body’s blood of toxins such as urea and creatine. As a result, death may result from kidney disease.

When the kidneys fail, dialysis, a procedure by which a patient’s blood is cleaned through an external process, must be performed. There are two types of dialysis, said Thomas Morring, a dialysis nurse at the UCLA Dialysis Unit.

One type is called hemodialysis, which removes blood from the body and runs it through a solution of water and several vital minerals. The process is usually performed in a clinic for long periods of time, several times a week, and it often leaves patients worn out and tired from draining blood.

“Patients have a terrible life,” said Gura, who is also the chief medical officer at XCorporeal, a company that produces devices for kidney failure. “They have to spend enormous amounts of hours on the dialysis, stuck with needles three times a week.”

He also said that as functional kidneys purify the body’s blood continually, hemodialysis treatments tend to be quite inefficient.

“If you could do (dialysis) around the clock, it would be much less stressful for the body,” Morring said.

Peritoneal dialysis, the other form, involves running tubes through the abdomen’s membrane lining, which then acts as a filter to purify blood. This process often takes place several times a day but can be performed at home by the patient, said Dennis Roy, the director of U.S. home therapy products at Baxter Health Care Corporation, which sells a number of home medical products including dialysis devices.

Gura’s invention is essentially hemodialysis that can be done at home, like peritoneal dialysis, Roy added.

“We decided to take a 200-pound machine that looks like a washing machine and miniaturize it,” Gura said. “You can put it on your body and walk around with it.”

He said that this required making the device light, powered only by batteries and independent of large sources of water.

Gura said that the purpose of the invention, which has not yet been developed for commercial sale, is to positively change the lives of those living with kidney failure.

“We want to reduce hospitalization by two-thirds,” he said. “(Patients) can go about their business without spending interminable hours on the machine. It will be a great improvement in the quality and length of life.”

Gura added that there is reason to hope that usage of his invention could cut in half the mortality rate of kidney failure, which rivals that of breast cancer. He noted that this could mean saving upwards of 40,000 lives and reducing as much as $10 billion dollars in expenses.

Roy said the invention could become useful to more than just the consumer.

“In theory, it would also be a benefit to the medical system,” he said. “You’d need less… clinics and nurses. It would be good for the patient and good for the medical system, too.”

Gura, who has been working on this project since 2001, said a prototype has been built and is currently undergoing human trials.

“We’re still a couple years from production,” he said.

Though the device could help many lives, some have doubts over its feasibility.

“On the surface, the product sounds neat. At this point in time, it hasn’t been proved,” Roy said.

Still, Gura said the reaction to his invention has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There’s a huge enthusiasm, there’s a huge hope for this. Patients dream of something like this,” he said.

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