Kidney Dialysis | Cleansing the blood

The first machine used for home hemodialysis, the Milton-Roy Model A, was designed by chemical engineering professor Les Bab in order to help the daughter of a friend. Photo by Jim Curtis. Courtesy Home Dialysis Central.

Kidney dialysis machines represent an excellent example of the life-enhancing synergies that result when chemical engineers join forces with physicians and biomedical researchers. These “artificial kidneys” are essentially mass-transfer devices. They cleanse the blood, removing elevated levels of salts, excess fluids, and metabolic waste products.

The first practical dialysis machine was developed during World War II. Since then many major developments have taken place. One of the major obstacles that had to be overcome, however, was size. To be truly practical a single-patient portable machine was needed.

One of the ten wonders

In 1964 Les Babb, a chemical-biochemical engineer, along with his colleagues at the University of Washington, designed a portable, fail-safe, single-patient dialysis machine. Within five years this stand-alone machine would become the dialysis system of choice throughout the world. In 1990 the Biomedical Engineering Society named this machine one of the “Ten Wonders of Biomedical Engineering.”