VUMC, UCSF investigators awarded $6 million NIH grant to develop implantable artificial kidney

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The National Institutes of Health has awarded a four-year, $6 million grant to investigators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) to develop an implantable artificial kidney.

Transplant is the best treatment for kidney failure but donor kidneys are in short supply. According to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, although more than 109,000 patients in the United States are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, last year only 17,108 received one, and each day in this country 12 people die awaiting kidney transplant. In all, more than 600,000 Americans have end-stage renal disease, and the annual cost to Medicare from this disease is $32 billion.

The grant will be split evenly between VUMC and UCSF. The principal investigators are VUMC nephrologist William Fissell IV, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, and UCSF bioengineer Shuvo Roy, Ph.D.

"This project is about creating a permanent solution to the scarcity problem in organ transplantation. We are increasing the options for people with chronic kidney disease who would otherwise be forced onto dialysis," Fissell said. "Dr. Roy and I are pursuing this approach because the integration of silicon nanotechnology and cell culture will achieve a bio-hybrid device within the lifetime of someone who starts dialysis today."

Using semiconductor fabrication techniques originally developed for the microelectronics industry, the bio-artificial kidney weds filters made of silicon with living human kidney cells cultured in the lab from samples harvested from deceased donors. The donated cells form a membrane positioned downstream from the device's intake filter, out of reach of the body's immune response. Organ rejection is not an issue, and the device will run on the body's normal blood pressure -- no other power source required.

The two investigators are longtime collaborators. In 2003 the kidney project attracted its first NIH funding, and in 2012 the Food and Drug Administration selected the project for a fast-track approval program.

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