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November 11th, 2007
PEOPLE with chronic kidney failure face a bleak future. Conventional dialysis cleanses the blood of only about 17% of the toxic chemicals that a healthy kidney removes. And donor organs are scarce. The 300,000 Americans who depend on dialysis to stay alive are crippled by an array of complications caused by the buildup of dangerous poisons in their blood, and only one-third survive more than five years.
Experimental devices in development could help turn this situation around. One advance, a battery-powered, wearable dialysis machine, would allow users to have their blood cleansed round the clock instead of being hooked up to machines 12 hours a week, potentially improving quality of life and reducing mortality. Even further ahead, blood-filtering systems created via nanotechnology -- engineering on a scale one-billionth the size of a meter -- may prove more effective than current dialysis and may even lead to miniaturized, implantable artificial organs that mimic the continuous function of healthy kidneys.
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