Newswise — A roadmap to create an implantable dialysis system that would allow patients to treat kidney failure at home has won researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), UC San Francisco (UCSF), and Silicon Kidney one of 15 cash prizes in the inaugural KidneyX’s Redesign Dialysis Phase I competition.

KidneyX, a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN), was founded to “accelerate innovation in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of kidney diseases.”

The 15 teams will receive $75,000 each, but more importantly, they will work closely with the FDA, Medicare and HHS leadership to see how the concepts can be translated into products for patients.

VUMC’s William Fissell, MD, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Nephrology, and UCSF’s Shuvo Roy, PhD, professor of Bioengineering in the School of Pharmacy, won their award for the design of an innovative implantable hemofilter dialysis system that allows patient to safely and effectively treat kidney failure at home.

The proposed system, known as iHemo (for implantable hemodialysis), creates a permanent implanted dialyzer inside the patient’s body.

“Home dialysis has many advantages, but patients are put off by the complexity of the equipment and the fear of needles and accidental bleeding,” Fissell said.

“We’re going to provide the ability for patients to perform their own dialysis sessions at home at their convenience according to their schedules. By eliminating the blood and the needles and substituting a simple connector to a drain bag, we get past the fear factor and reduce the footprint of the machinery.” 

Fissell, who has been working with Roy for the last decade on The Kidney Project to create an implantable bioartificial kidney, said the KidneyX award is another stepping stone on the way to achieving that goal.

“The award will not only provide further fuel for The Kidney Project but will also bring our advances to patients while the fully implantable artificial kidney is still being developed,” Fissell said.

“We are very grateful for this validation from a jury of policymakers, patients, scientists, and the biomedical industry. This is an area of research where we could transform the patient experience from illness to health, from burden to freedom, from despair to hope,” he said. 

The launch of KidneyX represents efforts by ASN to increase awareness among policymakers and legislators about the growing prevalence of kidney failure and the rising costs of treatment — estimated to represent about 7% of Medicare’s annual budget.

Researchers were asked to design solutions that “replicate normal kidney functions and improve patient quality of life” in entering the Redesign Dialysis Phase I competition. The group will award $500,000 to three teams as part of Phase II of the competition in the spring of 2020.

“We have adapted a key component of the technology we are using for the artificial kidney — the mechanical filtration unit — to make a device that provides better dialysis that what patients are getting today,” Roy said.

“If we do that, you will not only have better dialysis and better patient outcomes, but it can actually save money,” he added.


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