The average wait time for a kidney transplant is 3.6 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation, and 13 people die each day waiting for one. As they wait, patients receive four hours of dialysis three times a week. The treatment sustains life but does not restore health.
The 15 winning teams for Phase 1 were announced on 29 April at the KidneyX Summit in Washington, D.C. Participants were asked to submit an abstract about a proposed solution, and each winner will be awarded $75,000 to develop their design.
“The winning proposals address a broad range of potential improvements to dialysis and highlight the fact that there is more work to be done to change the status quo. Millions of patients are waiting,” said John Sedor, chair of the KidneyX Steering Committee, in a press release.
Here’s a sampling of the winners (see the full list here):
A device added to dialysis catheters to better prevent infection and blood clots.
A sensor-enhanced needle guide so patients can safely receive dialysis at home.
A wearable device to identify blood clots in real-time.
A blood-filtration unit using silicon filters that patients could operate at home.
That last proposal comes from The Kidney Project, led by Roy at UCSF and William Fissell at Vanderbilt University, which has been working for the last decade to create a fully-implantable artificial kidney. “An implanted device would allow a patient to move freely and provide continuous treatment,” he says.
Their current implantable design has two main components: a mechanical filtration unit that performs the cleansing functions of a kidney with silicon membrane filters; and a bioreactor unit lined with kidney cells to take care of the other key functions of a kidney, such as salt and water reabsorption, regulating blood pressure, and producing vitamin D.
Such a device could implant in the abdomen where a transplant kidney would be placed, serving as a “universal donor kidney,” says Roy. The team is now preparing to begin a human trial with the filtering unit. The kidney cell unit is being optimized and expected to soon move into animal testing.
For the KidneyX competition, Roy’s team used the same implantable blood filtration unit but connected it to an external dialysis pump system, called iHemo, that allows for self-care by patients at home. This hybrid device is a stepping stone, says Roy, as the true grail remains a fully implantable device.
Phase II of the competition is now open. This time, participants are challenged to build and test a prototype of their solution. Next year, three winners will walk away with $500,000 each. Submissions are due in January 2020, so it’s time to start building.