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An artificial kidney is a medical device which performs the function of a missing or damaged kidney, filtering the blood to remove waste products and returning purified blood to the body. The technology behind artificial organs is constantly improving and being refined. As of 2009, an implantable artificial kidney had not yet been developed, but researchers had created wearable artificial kidneys, an important step along the way to an implantable replacement for a malfunctioning kidney.
Artificial kidneys are used when the kidneys are struggling to function, and when the kidneys have reached the state of acute failure. The most well known and frequently used form of the kidney is the hemodialysis machine, a piece of medical equipment which can be hooked to a patient to clean his or her blood. Patients in acute kidney failure may require daily hemodialysis, and the treatment requires going to a clinic which offers the procedure, which can be time consuming and expensive in addition to frustrating for people who are trying to lead relatively normal lives.
As an alternative to conventional hemodialysis, doctors have developed portable and wearable artificial kidneys which can be used as temporary measures for up to three days. These devices use battery power to function, and they can increase a patient's sense of freedom by allowing him or her to avoid conventional dialysis treatments.
Researchers have also worked on developing devices which could be installed as replacement kidneys in a patient with failing or severely compromised kidneys. Development of such a device is dependent on figuring out how to replicate the complex natural filter inside the kidneys in a form small enough to be implanted into the human body. Nanotechnology has the most potential in the eyes of researchers who are struggling to design an implantable replacement kidney.
Currently, patients may use an artificial kidney while they wait for a transplant, or to temporarily relieve stress on the kidneys. Hemodialysis is sometimes used to scrub the blood in cases where a patient develops severe toxicity, or to support patients who are undergoing systemic organ failure and other medical problems which place heavy strain on the kidneys.
Medical technology is a topic of immense interest to many researchers, since it has far-reaching potential applications. An artificial kidney is only one among an assortment of medical devices which would have been unthinkable to early medical pioneers, representing the huge leaps and bounds made in medicine in the 20th century.