Better treatments for severe kidney failure are coming soon. Scientists are developing alternatives to dialysis and new treatments may even eliminate the need for kidney transplants. The overall goal is to improve the health and mobility of people who depend on dialysis. Here’s a look at some cutting-edge treatments that are on the horizon. Artificial Kidney Devices Several artificial kidney devices are currently in testing phases. These devices perform most of the functions of natural kidneys, including filtering wastes from blood and making urine. Artificial kidney devices are relatively small and portable, and have benefits over both dialysis and kidney transplant. They allow people to have much more freedom in their daily lives than dialysis. And drugs that suppress the immune system are usually not necessary, as they are with a kidney transplant. This eliminates the possibility of serious side effects. Artificial kidney devices include: The bioartificial kidney. This device is the size of a coffee cup. Doctors implant it in the body during surgery. It performs most of the biological functions of a natural kidney. It is designed to be permanent, but can be removed if a transplant is preferred and a donor kidney becomes available. Doctors can replace filters or make repairs using minimally invasive surgery. The implantable artificial kidney (IAK-1). The IAK-1 is the size of a natural kidney. Doctors can implant it or people can wear it outside the body. The IAK-1 works by using the body’s natural blood pressure and blood flow to filter blood through special filters. The wearable artificial kidney (WAK). This device weighs about 10 pounds and is worn in a belt around the waist. It connects to the blood stream via a catheter, a thin tube. The device can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if necessary. Drugs and Stem Cell Therapy for Diabetic Nephropathy Researchers at Harvard Stem Cell Institute are working on several projects to improve treatment of kidney failure. They are studying drugs and stem cells to treat kidney damage from diabetes—called diabetic nephropathy. This chronic disease is a very common cause of kidney failure. Scientists are looking at a type of stem cell called mesenchymal stem cells. They protect the kidneys from injury and help kidney tissue heal faster. Scientists hope to use a protein secreted by these stem cells to help repair damaged kidneys. One possible approach is to deliver the proteins to the kidneys during dialysis. Another large research project is developing an artificial kidney using stem cells. Scientists have already created a working artificial rat kidney and believe it is very possible to make a kidney for humans. The process involves mixing kidney stem cells with special gels that are molded into the structure of a nephron. Nephrons are microscopic units within the kidney that remove waste from the blood and make urine. Researchers have also found the types of kidney cells that are easily damaged by diabetes. They are working to discover a new drug that targets these cells. They hope that new drug therapy many eliminate the need for dialysis. Access to New Therapies These new treatments are all in different phases of development. Some are in the earliest stages where researchers test them in animals. Others are farther along and researchers are already testing them in humans. Talk with your doctor if you have questions or want information about clinical trials.