Thousands of kidney failure patients are set to be offered life-saving dialysis at home thanks to a new device based on the technology behind fruit juicers.
High blood pressure and diabetes are the two most common causes of kidney failure – when the organs stop filtering toxins out of the body and stabilising electrolyte levels.
Dialysis involves being hooked up to a machine that clears waste products and excess fluid from the blood.
Most patients who need treatment visit hospital or specialist centres for four-hour sessions three times a week. Without it, toxins build up in the body, causing fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, irregular heart rhythms and, ultimately, death.
About one in six of the 30,000 Britons currently on dialysis self-administer it at home. However, campaigners have been urging health chiefs to offer DIY treatment more widely to protect these vulnerable patients from hospital-acquired infections.
Kuljit Singh, a 44-year-old teacher from Essex underwent a kidney transplant in 2008 which began to fail ten years later, leaving her needing dialysis treatment. She is now self-administering at home
About one in six of the 30,000 Britons currently on dialysis self-administer it at home. However, campaigners have been urging health chiefs to offer DIY treatment more widely to protect these vulnerable patients from hospital-acquired infections
For instance, a 2021 report by The National Kidney Foundation found that 700 kidney patients who underwent dialysis in hospital between March and November 2020 died from Covid-19, compared with just 50 who did it at home.
Meanwhile, a recent analysis by experts at the University of Bangor suggested the NHS could save £17,000 per patient each year if all dialysis was done at home, as it would slash the costs of specialist staff, complex machines, dedicated clinics and transporting people to and from appointments.
The current at-home machines are the same 5ft-tall, heavy and complex ones found in hospitals. But the new, user-friendly Quanta Dialysis System device, which is being introduced by 16 NHS Trusts across the country, is about the size of a microwave oven and is simple to operate, making it accessible to a much larger number of patients.
It also features a wi-fi connection that sends information to doctors in real time, meaning that complications can be spotted quickly.
It is made by UK health tech firm Quanta Dialysis Technologies and the science behind it was inspired by the mechanisms used in modern commercial juicers that filter fruit waste.
During dialysis, patients are attached to the machine via two tubes in the arm.
The blood flows through one tube and enters the machine, where it mixes with a liquid called dialysate which binds to toxins in the blood.
Next, this liquid is passed through a filter to separate out the dialysate mixture. The clean blood is then fed back into the body via the second tube in the arm.
While the new Quanta Dialysis System device shares a similar mechanism, the filters are contained within a small, single-use and removable cartridge like those used in commercial juicers.
This enables the machine to be far more compact and easier for patients to operate, and effectively eliminates the need for disinfection between uses. ‘One of the main reasons a lot of patients opt not to have home dialysis is because they are intimidated by a large, bulky piece of medical equipment,’ says Dr Paul Komenda, professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba and chief medical officer at Quanta.
‘Setting up the machines for treatment is complex, and only those who are confident with computing technology tend to bother.’
The Quanta Dialysis System, however, requires far less training, thanks to the simple on-screen instructions.
Last summer the device won the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award – a prize recognising British engineering innovation.
About 3.5 million people in the UK suffer from chronic kidney disease, where their kidneys don’t work as well as they should. It becomes more common with age and in black and Asian people.
In the early stages, there are few, if any, symptoms.
If allowed to advance, it can cause debilitating tiredness, shortness of breath, nausea, blood in the urine and swollen ankles, feet or hands.
Many patients can stop the condition deteriorating with diet and lifestyle changes and medication. However, in a small percentage of people, the kidneys stop working completely – this is classed as kidney failure.
One patient to benefit from the new device is Kuljit Singh, a 44-year-old teacher from Essex. She underwent a kidney transplant in 2008 which began to fail ten years later, leaving her needing dialysis treatment.
After two years of back and forth trips to hospital, her consultant at the Royal London Hospital suggested that she try home treatment with the Quanta Dialysis System machine,
‘Hospital-based dialysis took over my life,’ says Kuljit. ‘I wasn’t able to take my daughter to and from school, for example.
‘But having a machine at home is wonderful. I have as normal a life as you can with dialysis.
‘I was surprised at how small the machine is. All the instructions are on the screen, so it was really easy to learn quickly.
‘Best of all, I can be here for my husband and daughter and feel mentally and physically well.’