A portable dialysis machine has somewhat successfully completed its first clinical trial, raising hopes for many that one day, dialysis will not be a three day a week intensive at a clinic, but instead, a continual process occurring 24 hours a day.
In other words, a small and portable external kidney.
As anyone who is familiar with dialysis — personal use, friend, family member, working in a unit — knows, being attached to not only the machine but its location is a limiting lifestyle. No spontaneous road trips, impulse trips anywhere — even into the City to catch a show — have to be weighed against risk of missing a dialysis appointment.
Weighing in at approximately 11 pounds, a weight the California inventors hope to drop down to around 4 pounds, the portable dialysis machine looks something like a toolbelt wrapped around someone’s waist. Using miniaturized components, it contains a bevy of devices to test and monitor blood, as well as thin and filter it.
Eight patients were part of this first trial, and they were encouraged to eat, drink, sleep, and generally live life as normal while they had it on. Those who tried sleeping found that they could, raising hopes that this could become a nightly home ritual rather than outpatient procedure. Maybe of more interest is the fact that of those eight patients, three were women — still something of a novelty in research studies not geared specifically at women.
Of course, being the first clinical trial on patients with end-stage renal disease, it didn’t go without error — three of the eight patients had severe reactions. Two of those were because the heparin dose was off, creating blood thickness/filtering problems, and one was due to a temporary disconnection because of a dislodged fistula needle. Even then, though, all of the patients enthusiastically recommended the device.
And why wouldn’t they? Slower rates of dialysis cause less pain for the patient and is easier to tolerate by the body, and perhaps more importantly, the device gives back a sense of freedom to those formerly weighed down with the giant anchor of immobile dialysis.
Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.