KidneyX Prize for artificial kidney project MI-TRAM

$650,000 prize brings much-needed dialysis upgrade closer to reality

The prestigious KidneyX Prize has been awarded to research team MI-TRAM. The prize allows the team to develop chips that will enable dialysis devices to purify blood much more efficiently. The team, featuring researchers from Utrecht University, received the award today during the KidneyX Summit.

Roos Masereeuw - foto door Jos Kuklewski
Prof. dr. Roos Masereeuw

A much-anticipated upgrade for dialysis machines and artificial kidneys is getting closer to reality. Plans of the international research team MI-TRAM to significantly improve the devices were rewarded today with a prestigious KidneyX Prize. The prize allows the team to develop a chip which could enable every dialysis machine to filter much more harmful substances from the blood of kidney patients.

Internationally recognized

"I am very much surprised our team was selected," says Utrecht University pharmacologist Roos Masereeuw, who is associated with the MI-TRAM team. "The competition was fierce, and we thought that as a European consortium we had little chance. But winning the KidneyX Prize will get us international recognition." The consortium consists of researchers from IMEC, RWTH Aachen University Medical Center, UMC Utrecht, and Utrecht University.

Filtering toxic substances

The demand for a filter upgrade for dialysis equipment couldn’t be higher. For millions of kidney patients worldwide, dialysis equipment is a vital necessity of life. The devices filter toxic substances from blood, replicating the function of healthy kidneys. However, their effectiveness is limited because they only remove the substances that are small enough to pass through the machine’s filters. Many toxic substances remain unfiltered in the blood because they’re attached to proteins that are too large to pass through the pores of the filters. These 'hidden' substances eventually accumulate in the bodies of kidney patients, causing damage to blood vessels, brains and nerve cells.

Disconnecting toxic substances with radio waves

The chip that MI-TRAM is working on, can detach the harmful substances from their carrier protein by shaking them on a microscopic level. This is done by sending radio waves through the blood as it flows through the dialysis filters. Once the radio waves have vibrated the substances away from the proteins, the toxic compounds are removed from the blood through the filters of the device.

One tiny size fits all

In laboratory tests, this approach appears to work well. The team now aims to develop a miniature version of the technology, to make it fit millimeter sized chips. This small size allows the chip to be implemented in virtually all dialysis machines. The chip could also be used in wearable artificial kidneys, a smaller version dialysis machines that is currently in development.

It is truly groundbreaking that we can now work on a completely new technology for making kidney dialysis much more efficient

"It is truly groundbreaking that we are allowed to collaborate on a completely new technology that can make kidney dialysis much more efficient, thereby improving the quality of life of kidney patients," says Masereeuw. "In our lab at Utrecht University, we will monitor the removal of toxic products. By monitoring those processes closely, we can demonstrate the efficiency and safety of the chip."

The prize was awarded by KidneyX, a public-private partnership between the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The alliance aims to improve the lives of kidney patients by accelerating innovations in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases.



MI-TRAM (Multi-compatible Implantable Toxin Removal Augmentation Module with fluid sensing) features researchers from IMEC, RWTH Aachen University Medical Center, UMC Utrecht, and Utrecht University