Dialysis is considered a life-saving procedure for those experiencing kidney failure. But the treatment can lead to serious complications for patients, as it involves the use of a dialyzer, or artificial kidney, that is not entirely compatible with the human body.
Amira Abdelrasoul is a researcher and professor at the University of Saskatchewan. She and her team are currently working on a new membrane designed to minimize the complications faced by dialysis patients. Her research program is the only one in Canada that is developing this tool, she said.
“My short-term [goal] is to reduce the side-effects patients experience and enhance their quality of life,” Abdelrasoul told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.
The purpose of dialysis is to help filter toxins, waste products, salts and excessive fluids from a patient’s blood, Abdelrasoul explained. But the semi-permeable membranes used in dialyzers don’t do an adequate job of filtering contaminants from the blood, she said.
“It’s not mimicking the function of healthy kidneys, so it cannot filter all the toxins,” Abdelrasoul said. “Also, the current membranes are not compatible with patients’ blood, so it leads to complications that patients experience.”
Poor filtration increases the chances of new toxins arising in the blood and can lead to a number of complications, such as blood clotting, cardiac arrest and bone diseases. The five-year survival rate for dialysis patients varies by age. According to statistics collected by the Canadian Institute for Health Information between 2007 to 2018, the five-year survival rate for Canadians aged 55 to 64 was about 51 per cent. For those aged 65 to 74, that number dropped to 39.5 per cent. Canadians aged 75 and older had a five-year survival rate of 26.2 per cent. These data do not include patients from Quebec.
Abdelrasoul and her team are currently testing different materials to use in the production of the dialyzer membrane to determine those that are best at filtering blood according to sex, age and other health conditions, including diabetes. The goal is to decrease the risk of developing acute side-effects and life-threatening chronic conditions in dialysis patients. Following this, the team will conduct clinical trials.
“We are using advanced techniques, which allow [for] real-time visualization and three-dimensional imaging at high speed,” she said. “Using those models, we are able to tune the membranes to obtain the most compatible one… to achieve the maximum efficiency of removing toxins.
“We are getting closer.”
The long-term goal, Abdelrasoul said, is to design an artificial wearable kidney that better replicates the behaviour of a properly-functioning kidney. This portable device would be the first of its kind.
Watch the full video with CTV’s Your Morning at the top of this article to learn more about the work being done by Abdelrasoul and her team.