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The First-Ever Artificial Kidney Created with a Microchip

First Posted: Feb 16, 2016 08:57 AM EST

A microchip has been used to build the first ever artificial kidney. Scientists are building an implantable, artificial kidney with microchip filters and living kidney cells that can be powered by a patient's own heart.

"We are creating a bio-hybrid device that can mimic a kidney to remove enough waste products, salt and water to keep a patient off dialysis," said William H. Fissell, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The key to creating the kidney, though, is a microchip. Called silicon nanotechnology, the chip uses the same processes that were developed by the microelectronics industry for computers. The chips themselves are affordable, and make ideal filters. In this case, the researchers designed each pore in the filter one by one based on what they want the pore to do.

Each "kidney" device holds about 15 microchips layered on top of each other. The chips function both as filters and as the scaffold in which living kidney cells will rest.

"We can leverage Mother Nature's 60 million years of research and development and use kidney cells that fortunately for us grow well in the lab dish, and grow them into a bioreactor of living cells that will be the only 'Santa Claus' membrane in the world: the only membrane that will know which chemicals have been naughty and which have been nice," said Fissell. "Then they can reabsorb the nutrients your body needs and discard the wastes your body desperately wants to get rid of."

The findings could be huge for create a new kidney for patients without the need for dialysis. Pilot studies of the silicon filters are expected to start in patients by the end of 2017.

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