Currently in the U.S., there are over 95,000 people waiting for kidney transplants, far more candidates than donors. In addition, an estimated 30 million people (one in seven adults) have chronic kidney disease, so the need for healthy kidneys will likely continue to outpace availability for some time.

In the absence of a transplant, patients typically receive dialysis treatments several times a week. Dialysis is difficult, time-consuming and insufficient for making a meaningful improvement in patient health.

The search for a practical, effective artificial kidney has been hampered by the inability to comfortably remove urea, until now. A research team at Drexel University led by Babak Anasori and Yury Gogotsi found a solution in the form of an emerging nanomaterial.

The nanomaterial, MXene, consists of two-dimensional nanosheets of metal carbides. MXene can capture urea, rather than breaking it down into ammonia and carbon dioxide (the process in dialysis), by sandwiching the molecules between its layers. Using discarded materials from dialysis machines, MXene was able to hold up to 94% of the urea at room temperature, and even more at body temperature. Because the nanomaterial did not kill cells, the researchers believe it will be safe for use in people, making a wearable artificial kidney a real lifesaving possibility for millions with chronic kidney disease.

The abstract appears in ACS Nano.