PEOPLE WITH KIDNEY FAILURE HAVE TWO TREATMENT OPTIONS: Visit an outpatient dialysis facility for three or four hours, three days a week, or receive home treatment several times a day. Yet for all the time dialysis takes and the inconvenience it poses, it can’t strip waste from the blood constantly, as a real kidney does. Between treatments, dialysis patients can feel fatigued or even die (the highest mortality rates for dialysis patients occur on Mondays, after forgoing weekend treatment).

Researchers from UCLA and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System are developing a device that would not only free patients from regular dialysis appointments and cupboards full of dialysis supplies but also run 24/7. The automated wearable artificial kidney (AWAK) is a six-pound vest that bears two pouches, one for hardware—a battery, sterilizing filter, pump, valves and tubing—and the other for a cartridge that filters dialysis fluid. The fluid circulates from the body through a catheter to the cartridge, where wastes are removed and a solution containing glucose and electrolytes is added, and the filtered fluid is then pumped back into the body for a repeat cycle. The AWAK performs at least four cycles per hour, and patients replace the cartridge every eight hours.

If clinical trials show benefit and the FDA approves the AWAK, researchers anticipate a market launch in 2011, offering patients true mobility.