Campus Community / Research

SU Researcher Aims to Create Portable Artificial Kidney

Written by Lincoln Vander Veen

May 4, 2023

Professor Shen Ren researching in a lab at Seattle U.
Assistant Teaching Professor Shen Ren, PhD, conducting research.

Shen Ren, PhD, of the College of Science and Engineering, is collaborating with the University of Washington and Northwest Kidney Center to transform dialysis treatment. 

Shen Ren, PhD, an assistant teaching professor in the mechanical engineering department at Seattle University, has helped to develop a novel urea removal technology for the development of a portable artificial kidney. The work is in partnership with the University of Washington's Center for Dialysis Innovation (CDI) and Northwest Kidney Centers (NWKC)

Since receiving funding last June from NWKC via a sub-award through the CDI, Dr. Ren and his partners have developed multiple modulized toxin removal and dialysate regeneration systems to create a portable artificial kidney.

“I have been a core member of the CDI family since day one back in 2017,” he explains. “It is such a privilege and unique experience to work with so many world-class scientists, physicians and engineers on innovative breakthroughs to transform dialysis. That’s where innovation meets humanity.”

A patient experiencing End-stage Renal Disease (ESRD) relies on dialysis treatment unless a kidney transplantation can occur. The current approach, largely unchanged since the 1960s, requires the patient to visit a dialysis clinic for four- to six-hour treatments, three times a week. The photo-oxidation-based toxin removal technology created by Dr. Ren and his partners allows patients to perform the dialysis treatment at their convenience. In other words, a patient can access life-saving treatment anywhere and anytime, receiving better treatment and performance, while significantly improving their quality of life and, most likely, their survival rate. (Presently, the five-year survival rate of patients on dialysis is below 50 percent, a rate worse than some types of cancer.)

“I started work on kidney dialysis 55 years ago, shortly after the technology (dialysis) was invented and, for the first time in human history, prolong lives of those with kidney failure,” explains Dr. Buddy Ratner, co-director of the UW's CDI and professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering at the university. “Dr. Ren and our team at the CDI are excited to bring game-changing, 21st century technology ideas to kidney dialysis to enhance patient satisfaction, reduce costs and improve medical outcomes.”

CDI’s fellow co-director Dr. Jonathan Himmelfarb, a professor of medicine and adjunct professor of bioengineering at the UW, echoes the hopeful sentiments of Dr. Ratner and praises the work of Dr. Ren.

“Working collaboratively, Dr. Ren has made a major contribution to the successful creation of breakthrough technologies that can transform the dialysis experience for kidney patients,” says Dr. Himmelfarb. “His hard work, dedication and advanced knowledge in mechanical engineering are inspiring and our team is privileged to work with such a talented engineer."

CDI plans to continue funding Dr. Ren's work through this summer. Going forward, he plans to continue to miniaturize the modular system in an effort to continuously improve the accessibility of a portable artificial kidney.