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Designing kidney health for all

Published: March 2023
Updated: March 2024

Bex Jones
Bex Jones, Design Consultant

World Kidney Day (WKD) was launched in 2006 to raise awareness of the importance of our kidneys and the impact that they have on our health. In turn, the campaign aims to educate both patients and healthcare professionals on preventative care for chronic kidney disease (CKD) to aid with early detection and minimise risks.

The 2024 campaign theme is ‘Kidney health for all – advancing equitable access
to care and optimal medication practice’. Achieving optimal kidney care requires overcoming barriers at multiple levels while considering contextual differences across world regions. These include gaps in early diagnosis, lack of universal healthcare or insurance coverage, low awareness among healthcare workers, and challenges to medication cost and accessibility. 

As a medical design consultancy, we are passionate about improving healthcare and making a positive impact on people’s lives.

In this article, I’ll explore how to improve care for patients with non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular, diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung diseases, and chronic kidney diseases) by making it more preventative.

Condition and scale

CKD is a progressive disease that leads to a loss in kidney function over a period of months or years. This occurs due to damaged nephrons, which act as filters for the blood. In time, this leads to kidney failure which affects the whole body and can significantly reduce quality of life.

It is said if policy inaction is not reversed now, CKD will be the 5th leading cause of years of life lost in 2040. Currently, CKD affects 10% of the world’s population and due to the inaccessibility of proper and affordable treatment, millions of people die each year. In this percentage, there are around two million patients receiving treatment to stay alive.

The problem

At present, there is no cure for CKD. The current treatments used to help relieve symptoms are primarily pharmaceutical, positive lifestyle changes, dialysis, or kidney transplants. The success rate of kidney transplants is high; however, the organ donor list is unable to keep up with the demand. In the US alone there are around 100,000 patients on the waiting list.

As this organ donor supply is unlikely to ever catch up to the demand, it is imperative that attention and care is taken for managing the condition with existing and upcoming technologies. This can be provided with accessible and user-friendly designs, encouraging patients to have an active role in their care. Doing so will better prepare users in emergency situations as they will already be accustomed to self-medicating to aid with remote monitoring.

Designs that deliver

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the primary underlying causes or associated problems with CKD. At Shore, we have been involved in designing user-centric devices that can effectively address these conditions.

LifeScan – Easy to Use Glucose Meter:

blood glucose meter in use

We’ve worked closely with LifeScan on supporting the development of its portfolio of diabetes-related products and services. The long-standing and well-recognised fingerstick glucose meter OneTouch® brand is used by millions of consumers daily.

Back in 2011, we supported the development of OneTouch Select Simple. It was an opportunity to create a glucose meter aimed specifically at the BRIC Tier 2 market segment, a very specific challenge in terms of both the user groups and the associated cultural restrictions. It was designed to make fingerstick checks for monitoring blood sugar levels simple and understandable to millions of people with diabetes living in developing countries.

The more recent OneTouch Verio Reflect®, advances the Verio range with a more compact form factor and is the only meter available with a Blood Sugar Mentor™. The mentor explains blood glucose readings and offers tips and actions for diabetes management. Having been released worldwide, it’s now available in over 20 languages.

QardioArm – Smart Blood Pressure Monitor:

person wearing blood pressure monitor and app on phone

The QardioArm was designed with style and portability in mind, so that users would feel comfortable using the device anywhere. Shore’s goal was to create an unobtrusive, attractive, and easy to use product that was unlike a medical device or bloody pressure monitor on the market.

person wearing ECG monitor

Cardiovascular disease is a common effect of CKD, meaning there is a risk of sudden cardiac events. Consistent monitoring of the heart can therefore aid with preventative care and early detection. QardioCore was the world’s first patch-free and wireless ECG device. The monitor is designed to have a stylish and comfortable form factor, suitable for use every day as needed.

Therefore, in order to improve preventative care is the answer promoting closer observation and monitoring in these areas by making at-home devices become as accessible as possible? This would also encourage patients to take greater responsibility for their care and increase their awareness.

Future breakthroughs in kidney health

Advancing technology and innovations are generating solutions that could be used as alternatives to kidney transplants through organ donation.

Wearable artificial kidney:

One of the furthest developed inventions is currently in clinical trials. It consists of a miniaturised dialysis device that allows haemodialysis (blood-filtering) to be carried out at any time. These semi-lightweight (5-10kg) portable machines would enable patients to have more frequent dialysis without the limitation of appointments or healthcare professional availability.

Laboratory-grown living kidneys:

Researchers around the world have been attempting to grow a complete human kidney using kidney cells from embryos, stem cells from adults or cloned tissue. A Team from Manchester is the first in the world to have grown the parts of the kidney that filter blood in a laboratory dish using human stem cells. The resulting nephrons have been tested by being implanted into an animal, where they were able to filter the blood and produce urine, similarly to how a normal kidney works.

Bioartificial kidney:

This consists of a two-part system: a mechanical blood filter made with a silicone membrane, and a bioreactor consisting of human kidney cells. The implanted kidney attaches directly to systematic circulation and is controlled by the patient’s blood pressure. This allows the device to mimic a functioning kidney’s behaviour by filtering waste directly into the bladder.

By designing user-centred and accessible products, we have the opportunity to contribute to the goal of ‘kidney health for all’. Our collaborative approach enables us to create devices and technologies that not only treat kidney-related diseases but also address the underlying issues related to kidney health. Working with healthcare providers, patients, and other stakeholders, we can develop innovative medical products and technologies that can assist people in preparing for unexpected health events and supporting vulnerable populations.

If this has inspired you or you’re facing any challenges related to kidney health, we would be delighted to discuss potential solutions with you.

Contact us.

Sources:

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