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UT Austin chemical engineering professors doing research aimed at prolonging lives of those on kidney dialysis

University of Texas chemical engineering professors Dr. Doug Lloyd and Dr. Roger Bonnecaze are doing research they hope will improve the life expectancy of people on kidney dialysis.

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AUSTIN, Texas—University of Texas chemical engineering professors Dr. Doug Lloyd and Dr. Roger Bonnecaze are doing research they hope will improve the life expectancy of people on kidney dialysis.

More than 600,000 people worldwide have kidneys that fail to do the job of cleaning toxins out of their body’s blood supply. This life-saving cleansing process must be done by kidney dialysis machines, which filter toxins from a patient’s blood.

Despite the procedure, almost a quarter of those on dialysis die each year because the mechanical filtering process allows larger toxins or so-called “middle molecules” to remain in their bloodstream.

This is because current filtering membranes do not have a narrow enough pore size distribution to pass middle molecules and at the same time retain slightly larger, necessary proteins.

Lloyd and Bonnecaze have just secured an $898,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop a type of filtering membrane that will sweep these life-threatening elements from the blood of dialysis patients.

Their work will focus on refining the size and distribution of filtering pores in plastic membranes, which are shaped like long, thick strands of hair. By eliminating these larger pores, the toxic middle molecules will be removed and vital proteins will stay in the bloodstream. This technology may be used to filter viruses from blood derived products.

The membranes they develop will need to be affordable and conducive to mass production. Clusters of these plastic strands are fastened inside a tube known as a hemodialyzer, which handles the actual blood filtering process. A billion dollars’ worth of hemodialyzers is used in the United States alone each year.

“For people suffering from kidney failure and who are dependent on hemodialysis, this work could prolong and improve the quality of their lives,” Lloyd said.

A post-doctoral fellow and two other UT students will work with Lloyd and Bonnecaze on the project, which is expected to take three years. They will team with researchers from Baxter International, the world’s largest supplier of medical devices.

The research will be done at UT. Baxter’s role will be to contribute financial support, evaluate the membranes for applications and begin the approval process with the Food and Drug Administration.

The final product could become the only hemodialyzer membrane produced by an American company.