Scientists take significant step towards developing bionic kidney

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A significant step has been taken towards developing a bionic kidney that could be placed in the bodies of patients.

Scientists and engineers have tested a "living membrane" made with human cells that would be at the heart of a functional artificial kidney implant.

Creating a semi-permeable surface that can selectively filter out waste molecules in the same way as a real kidney has been a major challenge.

The team used cultured cells from the human kidney filtration system which were attached to the surfaces of artificial hollow structures.

Tests showed that the cell layer functioned as a living membrane.

Scientists hope such devices will one day replace kidney transplants and bulky dialysis machines that filter the blood of patients with kidney failure.

Dialysis, which usually involves regular trips to hospital, is often carried out before a transplant.

In 2012, more than 27,000 people in the UK were undergoing dialysis, according to the National Kidney Federation.

At the end of the same year, more than 6,000 UK patients were on the transplant list waiting for a kidney.

Lead researcher Dr Dimitrios Stamatialis, from the University of Twente, in The Netherlands, said: "This study shows the successful development of a living membrane, an important step towards the development of a bio-artificial kidney device.

"The strategies and methods of this work could be relevant to the development of other bio-artificial organs, such as a bio-artificial liver or bio-artificial pancreas, and organs on chips - such as a kidney on chip, a lung on chip, or a liver on chip."

Details of the work were presented at the ASN Kidney Week meeting taking place in Chicago, in the US.