The main role of the kidney is to filter waste products from the blood before converting them into urine. But this process ceases for individuals who have kidney failure, causing waste to build up in their blood. Now, researchers have created a nanofiber mesh that they say could be a wearable and cheaper alternative to kidney dialysis.

This is according to a study published in the journal Biomaterials Science.

Kidney dialysis is the most common treatment for patients with kidney failure. It involves the use of machines, either at home or in the hospital, that help filter waste product toxins from a patient’s blood, in replacement of normal kidney function.

But the research team – from the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics (MANA) of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan – says that because these machines require electricity and careful maintenance, they are not widely available in poorer countries.

In addition, they note that in the aftermath of natural disasters in these countries – such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 – many patients who require dialysis often have to go without treatment until normal hospital services are resumed.

With this in mind, the investigators set out to develop a cheaper way of removing toxins in the blood of patients with kidney failure. This resulted in the creation of a nanofiber mesh.

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Researchers say the new nanofiber mesh could be a cheaper alternative to dialysis, and patients may even be able to wear it on their arms.

For their creation, the researchers first combined a blood-compatible primary matrix polymer made from polyethylene-co-vinyl alcohol (EVOH), and a variety of zeolites – aluminosilicate minerals made up of aluminum, silicon and oxygen.

Zeolites have microporous structures that can absorb waste products from the blood.

The team used electrospinning – a low-cost method that uses an electrical charge to draw fibers from a liquid – to develop the mesh.

After testing the mesh on its ability to absorb creatinine – a waste product – from the blood, the investigators found that a specific ratio of silicon and aluminum within the zeolites is required.

They discovered that beta type 940-HOA zeolite absorbs the highest amount of creatinine from the blood.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers say:

The proposed composite fibers have the potential to be utilized as a new approach to removing nitrogenous waste products from the bloodstream without the requirement of specialized equipment.”

The investigators say the mesh is still in its early stages and much more development is needed before it is ready for production.

But they say it is possible that the mesh could be made into a blood purification product that would be small enough for the patient to wear on their arm, which would save patients money and time.

They strongly believe this creation is a feasible one, and they say it could be a compact and cheap alternative to dialysis for kidney failure patients worldwide.

There are other treatment options being explored to help patients with kidney failure. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study detailing the creation of an artificial kidney that can extract waste from the body just like a normal, healthy kidney.

In other research, investigators have looked to the use of pig kidneys as a “scaffold” on which to build human kidneys by injecting them with stem cells. The stem cells would take over the pig kidney, making it available for transplantation in humans.