Our kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located mid-way against the back muscles in the upper abdominal area, each about the size of a fist. To accommodate the placement of the liver, the left kidney is found slightly higher than the right kidney.
Kidneys have two main roles to play in bodily functions. The first role is to help the body filter, or process, waste materials accumulated from food, medications and toxic substances, and pass out all these waste products in the form of urine. Their second role is to regulate and filter minerals from blood before it is circulated back to the heart. Apart from these two main roles, our kidneys also maintain overall fluid balance and create hormones to produce red blood cells, promote bone health and regulate our blood pressure.
From this we can see that without fully functioning kidneys, we will not be able to have a long and healthy life. When kidneys are unable to function well or fail completely (kidney failure), mainly due to uncontrollable Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure (hypertension), patients inevitably end up going for dialysis twice or thrice weekly depending on the severity of their condition, failing which the buildup of toxic substances and undischarged daily bodily waste will signal the end of a life very quickly.
Dialysis is a long process and a single session can last up to four hours! Previously, the only alternative to dialysis was a kidney transplant which is an extremely long and difficult process which starts with looking and screening a donor with a compatible kidney. A donor may not necessarily be direct family members. The operation is a major one for both donor and recipient, and patients must be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives.
7,967 patients were reported by the Malaysian Dialysis along with Transplant Registry in 2015 to have received dialysis. 39,711 patients were recorded to have received dialysis at the end of 2016, indicating larger increase in the total amount of patients. Its estimated that the number of patients is to increase to 51,000 in 2020 if left unchecked. This is only for Malaysia alone. (moh.gov.my)
In the case for the US, it is estimated that 750,000 people are treated for ESRD (end-stage renal disease) as the rates of kidney disease continues to grow at a rapid rate. The shortage of kidney transplants is evident as there were only 21,000 donor kidneys available while the 100,000 patients needed transplants in 2016. From this we can see the obvious difference in supply and demand. (sciencedaily)
The good news is that scientists have developed artificial kidneys which can take over the role of dialysis. The US Kidney Research Corporation (USKRC) recently announced a breakthrough via their website in developing the world’s first implantable artificial kidney. Their prototype has been tested on animals, and results have been encouraging. It is currently a wearable device, but USKRC researchers are working on a miniaturized version that can be safely implanted in humans. Human trials are expected to be conducted in the next two years.
As mentioned by the founder and CEO of USKRC, Roland Ludlow, “We are thrilled to be the first ever to accomplish this momentous breakthrough with our new artificial kidney prototype. It confirms that the electrodeionization technology we are using is right on track and that reaching our future goal of creating a wearable and ultimately an implantable artificial kidney is a real possibility. We are extremely proud of our science and medical advisor Dr. Ira Kurtz and the head of research at the University of Arkansas, Jamie Hestekin PhD, along with his staff, for their incredible work leading to this discovery”.
Implanted artificial kidneys will definitely improve quality of life for kidney patients who can afford them, as the machine will continuously carry out kidney functions while they go about with daily routines. Visits to dialysis centers for 4-hour sessions will be a thing of the past, as it is time consuming and incovenient.
We look forward excitedly to the day USKRC will successfully develop and introduce artificial kidneys commercially to the world, as this will give hope to countless kidney patients seeking an alternative to dialysis or kidney replacement.
16th April 2020 23:50
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