'Wearable kidney' may offer dialysis on the go

Awak CEO Neo Kok Beng hopes to give water dialysis patients greater freedom to lead a normal life.
PHOTO: 'Wearable kidney' may offer dialysis on the go

SINGAPORE - Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and local technology company Awak are testing a portable kidney dialysis machine that could provide a convenient and efficient option for patients.

The 1kg machine can be worn on a belt or carried in a bag, so patients can have water dialysis around the clock, said Awak chief executive Neo Kok Beng.

It is expected to benefit at least 800 Singapore patients on such dialysis, and thousands more worldwide, if trials prove it is safe and effective.

In water dialysis, a special solution is pumped into the abdomen, left there to collect waste products and then pumped out.

About 15 per cent of Singapore patients are on water dialysis, which is done at home. The remainder are on blood dialysis at dialysis centres, where nurses usually care for them.

Patients on water dialysis strap themselves to a machine for 10 hours a night - it works while they sleep. They can also manually run the solution in and out of the abdomen via a tube every 4-5 hours. The dialysis, done about three times a day, takes half an hour each round.

The wearable kidney mimics a real kidney and offers 24-hour dialysis. For patients now on the manual method, it would be far simpler to use and save time.

"It could clean the body better than having dialysis only at night," said Dr Marjorie Foo, who heads the renal medicine department at SGH.

Patient Lim Sze Hui, 25, said she would no longer have to get home by 9pm daily to start water dialysis on the machine.

"I hope the wearable kidney will allow me to go out and come home freely," she said.

Patients would also be able to travel overseas without having to arrange for the dialysis fluid to be delivered to their hotels.

However, noted Dr Titus Lau, a senior kidney doctor at National University Hospital: "It has to be medically proven to be safe and good, or even better than what we currently have."

The SGH trials will be carried out with 15 patients during the fourth quarter of this year.

Awak said the wearable kidney could hit markets by 2017. It is also developing a lightweight portable blood dialysis machine.

This article was first published on July 28, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.