End stage kidney disease is a global public health problem with an estimated 2.4 million patients on dialysis. The number of new cases is rising (7-8% annually) due to population ageing and increased diabetes prevalence. The NEPHRON+ project is improving the lives of patients by developing a wearable artificial kidney device, enabled with information and communication technologies for remote monitoring.
Chronic kidney disease will affect one in ten of us at some point in our lives. For those of us unlucky enough to suffer renal failure as a result, the health consequences can be disastrous.
Without treatment kidney failure is deadly. However, even the best treatments are not ideal. Patients have to be treated with a dialysis machine at home or in hospital, sometimes as often as once every four hours. Patients spend a large part of their lives connected to dialysis equipment. What's more, the life expectancy of a person in their 20s who has suffered kidney failure is just 20 years, unless they're lucky enough to receive a donated organ.
All this could change, however. An EU-funded research consortium has been developing a wearable artificial kidney that would make it possible for dialysis patients to lead a more full and active life while adding another 10 to 16 years to their life expectancy.
The future of wearable dialysis
The NEPHRON+ WAKD (Wearable Artificial Kidney Device) is currently undergoing animal trials and will have to pass several rounds of stringent tests in humans before it is ready to be used by all patients with kidney disease. However, the project has reached a stage where commercial partners are ready to take the technology to the next stage. With kidney failure rates on the rise and pressure on hospitals to find more cost effective and clinically effective treatments, the market for wearable dialysis devices could be worth as much as a €15 billion per year, according to Dr Leonidas Lymberopoulos, project coordinator.
The advantages of wearable dialysis
The NEPHRON+ system works like a conventional dialysis machine, taking the patient's blood and passes it through a number of filters, removing waste products that would be excreted in a healthy patient's urine and making sure that the patient's blood pressure stays at a safe level. The patient can see the monitored data via their smartphone. What's more, the data can be sent to the patient's specialist doctor, so that their condition can be monitored at all times. But the wearable device will reduce the chance that a patient has to go to hospital for emergency treatment as constant dialysis is much more effective than intermittent treatment.
Frank Simonis, technical manager of NEPHRON+ explains: "Continuous, 24/7 dialysis with a wearable device offers a smooth and uniform extraction of toxins over the day similar to the natural kidney. This improves the health condition tremendously and eliminates the 'after dialysis sickness syndrome' that many patients suffer from."
Dr Lymberopoulos suggests that the cost of caring for a patient with kidney disease will fall due to the reduction in the need for prescription medicine, nursing staff and installation costs. Cost savings in medical care are expected to €15.000-20.000/patient/year. With 340.000 patients in Europe this implies an annual saving of €5-7 billion. Most importantly, explains Ms Anastasia Garbi, former project leader, "the patient can now lead a more normal life, working and exercising without the regular long visits to the hemodialysis centers".
NEPHRON+ received research funding under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
For further information please visit the NEPHRON+ website.