Kidneys clean our blood using nephrons, which are essentially filters that let fluid and waste products through while blocking blood cells, proteins, and minerals. The latter get reintegrated into the blood, and the former leave the body in urine.
Scientists have struggled to come up with viable treatments for kidney disease and renal failure, and their complexity means kidneys are incredibly hard to synthetically recreate; each kidney contains around one million intricately-structured nephrons.
But new progress from chemical engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas has brought functioning artificial kidneys one step closer. The researchers created a device that was able to filter blood in a way similar to biological nephrons.
They placed a porous mesh made of platinum between two ion-exchange wafers to create a wafer that pushes ions through membranes using an electric field. The platinum meshes serve as electrodes when voltage is applied, enabling the team to select different ions and adjust their transport rates independently. They tested the technology with various ions and were successfully able to mimic the ion transport done by the kidneys.
Christa Hestekin, Arkansas associate professor of chemical engineering and the lead author of the paper, said, “The system could work as a stand-alone device or in conjunction with peritoneal dialysis to control the chemistry of solutions used in treatment. And, minor modifications to the device could enable it to function as a wearable and potentially implantable artificial kidney.”