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Scientific Breakthrough in Kidney Dialysis

Ellie McCluey | November 8th, 2023

As one of the top ten global causes of death, chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects approximately 9.1 percent of the global population. The main function of the kidneys is to maintain blood pressure, excrete waste products in urine, and filter the blood for toxins. To remedy this, individuals with late-stage CKD are often prescribed with dialysis therapy to supplement proper kidney function. Dialysis works to artificially screen the blood for toxins and removes wastes when the kidneys are no longer able, an artificial kidney. Currently, more than 550,000 Americans are on dialysis. Recently at Vanderbilt, Dr. Piran Kidambi led William Fissel, Shuvo Roy, and Francesco Fornasiero in developing a new filter to improve the efficacy of dialysis machines. 

Current dialysis methods use filters composed of pores of various sizes. The difference in size allows for selective permeability: retaining desired components and removing waste. However, as pore size increases, so does the loss of desirable proteins, specifically albumin. Albumin prevents fluid from leaving the bloodstream and infiltrating bodily tissues. Thus, a fine line exists between the level of filtration and excess loss of desired molecules. 

The new filtering method employs carbon nanotubes that replicate capillaries by minimizing friction and promoting smooth flow during dialysis. The smaller pores in the carbon nanotubes allow for increased permeability and removal of undesired metabolic waste while preventing excessive albumin loss. The filter consists of a sheet of carbon atoms with extremely small capillaries. This new method has demonstrated a higher hydraulic permeability in comparison to current commercial methods while maintaining necessary proteins and excreting wastes. Thus, the increased permeability is at no expense of filtration quality.

In the future, employment of this new method for dialysis could greatly decrease dialysis treatment time while improving the quality of filtration for patients. In addition to “transformative advances in hemofiltration/hemodialysis [the team expects this new method to] allow for insights into molecular transport that can help advance membrane design for other biological systems and applications beyond.” In testing this new method, the researchers found that molecules adapt a new conformation to fit through the carbon nanotubes and reform their original conformation upon reaching the other side. This novel knowledge about molecular transport can potentially aid in more refined techniques for biological separation outside of the realm of dialysis. 

The project is now looking to assess the possibility of developing the new filtration method for commercial implementation in the future.

Works Cited 

Cheng, P., Ferrell, N., Öberg, C. M., Buchsbaum, S. F., Jue, M. L., Park, S. J., Wang, D., Roy, S., Fornasiero, F., Fissell, W. H., & Kidambi, P. R. (n.d.). High-Performance Hemofiltration via Molecular Sieving and Ultra-Low Friction in Carbon Nanotube Capillary Membranes. Advanced Functional Materials, n/a(n/a), 2304672.

Quick kidney disease facts and stats | American Kidney Fund. (2021, December 23). Sep 20, 2023, & Am, 9:46. (n.d.). Vanderbilt team reimagines kidney dialysis by creating new paradigm for dialysis membranes. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from eating-new-paradigm-for-dialysis-membranes/ 

Services, D. of H. & H. (n.d.). Kidneys. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from