After volunteering at Montreal General Hospital's dialysis unit, 17-year-old Anya Pogharian was struck by an idea: what if there was a way to make kidney dialysis more affordable and accessible to patients in developing countries, or to anyone with limited access to hospital facilities?
The idea became a reality when she designed and built an at-home dialysis machine for her senior science project. She spent 300 hours on the project — 30 times the required 10.
She made her idea into a reality.
As Pogharian notes in the video above, in developing countries less than 10 percent of people with kidney disease have access to treatment. This type of machine would make it easier for poor patients to receive the treatment they need.
Here's why Anya's machine is so cool.
The kidneys' main function is filtration: they remove waste products and excess fluid from the body, regulate potassium and sodium levels, and process drugs for excretion. They also help regulate blood pressure and the production of red blood cells.
The two major causes of kidney failure in the United States are type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
When kidney function is lost, dialysis is required in order to take over the kidneys' job.
A dialysis machine does what the kidneys are supposed to do: it cleans and filters the blood.
As you might have guessed, dialysis requires a fairly complex machine.
Treatments are usually required three times a week and can either be done at a hospital or at home with a hemodialysis machine. Unfortunately, a hemodialysis machine can cost up to $30,000.
(If you're wondering what dialysate is in the above diagram, it's water with various electrolytes — potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium — that helps clean the blood and restores chemical balance.)
But as you can see, Ms. Pogharian's machine is much simpler and smaller.
Her machine would cost around $500 and allow patients to have dialysis at home, sparing them tiring trips to and from the hospital and allowing them a higher quality of life.
She explains how her machine works here.
As you can see, it works just like the much larger version.
She'll get her chance to see if her machine does what it's supposed to do this summer: Héma-Québec has offered an internship that will allow her to test it on real blood.
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