The National Institutes of Health has awarded a four-year, $6 million grant to investigators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) to develop an implantable artificial kidney.

The grant will be split evenly between VUMC and UCSF. The principal investigators are VUMC nephrologist William Fissell IV, MD, associate professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, and UCSF bioengineer Shuvo Roy, PhD. Roy and Fissell have been working on the device for more than a decade. In 2003 the kidney project attracted its first NIH funding, and in 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration selected the project for a fast-track approval program.

The Kidney Project team has prototyped and begun testing key components of the coffee-cup-sized device, which mimics functions of the human kidney.

“This project is about creating a permanent solution to the scarcity problem in organ transplantation. We are increasing the options for people with chronic kidney disease who would otherwise be forced onto dialysis,” Fissell said. “Dr. Roy and I are pursuing this approach because the integration of silicon nanotechnology and cell culture will achieve a bio-hybrid device within the lifetime of someone who starts dialysis today.”

According to UCSF, the implantable bioartificial kidney builds upon the existing extracorporeal Renal Assist Device (RAD), which is a bioartificial kidney that combines a membrane hemofilter and a bioreactor of human renal tubule cells to mimic many of the metabolic, endocrine, and immunological functions of a healthy kidney. The ultimate goal of The Kidney Project is to apply microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanotechnology to miniaturize the extracorporeal RAD into a surgically implantable, self-monitoring, and self-regulating bioartificial kidney.