A fashion statement it may not be, but the Wearable Artificial Kidney (WAK) could prove a very smart accessory for those with serious kidney disease. A miniaturized dialysis machine that can be worn as a belt, the WAK concept allows patients with end stage renal failure the freedom to engage in daily activity while undergoing uninterrupted dialysis treatment.

Worn as a belt, the device weighs just ten pounds (4.5kg), including the two nine-volt batteries that power it. The compact design, unlike conventional dialysis machines, will leave patients free to engage in the activities that normal kidney function would ordinarily allow them to enjoy. Walking, working and riding a bike can all be actively pursued without restriction while undergoing gentle, uninterrupted treatment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dialysis technology as it exists today is a cumbersome, tiresome and confining process. It requires a patient’s physical attachment to a large machine known as an extracorporeal circuit (ECC) consisting of plastic blood tubing, a filter acting as an artificial kidney, and a monitor that maintains blood flow and administers a chemical bath called dialysate to remove urea and other waste products from the blood. The treatment involves circulating the patient's blood outside of the body anywhere between 3 – 5 hours per day, at least three times a week.

Dr Victor Gura, MD, an author of the study examining the breakthroughs in the Wearable Artificial Kidney, explains that such a device would have a massive impact on the quality of life for patients with end-stage renal failure. No longer would patients need to endure long hours of dialysis, limit their activities or face exorbitant costs associated with treatment. With the U.S. dialysis population currently exceeding 400,000 at costs of over $30 billion per year, this alternative palliative treatment “will not only reduce the mortality and misery…but will also result in significant reduction in the cost of providing viable health care.”

For more information on “Technical Breakthroughs in the Wearable Artificial Kidney (WAK),” the article is available online at the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

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