Scientists have been able to create artificial organs with varying degrees of success. The mechanical heart (in its various forms, e.g. ventricular assist) is able to sustain life for some period of time.

Efforts to grow whole organs in the lab will probably ultimately lead to a more pragmatic solution. What aspects of the renal physiology are standing in the way of an implantable mechanical kidney (fashioned more so from tubules and membranes than simply being a shrunken down dialysis machine)?

  • $\begingroup$ Have you encountered Shuvo Roy's work? $\endgroup$ – user132 Dec 20 '11 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M. No, I had not previously. I had looked into this about 10 years ago, but it looks like the field has come pretty far. (I'll pull papers, but) Do they actually have a deliverable? $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 20 '11 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ Apart from press releases, I don't think I've seen the release of a device for public consumption. Still, they're reporting results with the prototype. It's a step forward, yes? $\endgroup$ – user132 Dec 20 '11 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M. It's definitely a huge step forward. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 20 '11 at 11:35

The problem is that real organs are just damn complex - yes the kidney's prime role is just to be a filter, but in order to do so it must be plugged in to a dozen regulation mechanisms - osmotic balance, ion management, protein management and a plethora of more subtle ones. Moreover it is a part of body, so it must also follow all the standard protocols to live with immune system, obtain necessary resources to its function and maintenance, cooperate with nearby tissues...

Currently we only have rough knowledge about major processes, deciphering them all is a work for many, many years (if it is not futile at all). Finally, our technology will be long not capable of implementing all those protocols; in peaks of perfection we can serially do simple parts in 100nm scale (microprocessors), while this is a scale of a complete molecular device.

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  • $\begingroup$ I question your "100nm scale microprocessors" remark. We can manufacture microprocessors down to at least 30nm, if not lower. I think the current minimum transistor size is 14nm. Update: Intel and IBM are using 14nm in next-gen fabrication, several other companies are using 15nm. Intel have also been experimenting with 12nm and 11nm units. $\endgroup$ – Polynomial Dec 20 '11 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the above just refers to the overall transistor size. The internal layers and interconnects are often smaller than 1nm in at least one dimension. Clearly we already have the capability to produce simple parts at a much smaller scale than 100nm. $\endgroup$ – Polynomial Dec 20 '11 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Polynomial This x-nm technology means the size of a single transistor, a simple switch which is still far from a minimal functional element. $\endgroup$ – user59 Dec 20 '11 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ I'm aware of this, but transistors are highly complex in comparison with a mechanical device. In the case of producing very fine filters and sponge-like structures, 20nm is no big deal. $\endgroup$ – Polynomial Dec 20 '11 at 21:52

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