Artificial Kidney Machine Inventor
Dr. Willem J. Kolff invented the kidney dialysis,
or artificial kidney, machine. The first membrane oxygenator for clinical use
was developed based on the Kolff's artificial kidney model. He also supported the evolution of the artificial
heart, an investigated intra-aortic balloon pumping and how to best
preserve an organ for transplantation.
During his childhood in the Netherlands, Kolff
chose zoo keeping as his career of choice. His father, a doctor and
director of a tuberculosis sanitarium, continually experienced the death of
his patients. The young Kolff
felt that watching so many of his patients die would be too challenging.
Ultimately his father won out, and Kolff pursued medicine. Some believe that it
was this dread of watching patients die that led Kolff to eventually focus on
artificial organ development.
In 1938, Kolff earned his medical degree from the University of Leiden in
Holland. Later that year, he watched one of his own patients die of kidney
disease. He was frustrated at the lack of options he had for treating the young
boy, and tried to explore options for purifying his patient's blood.
Kolff began working on a process in which toxins in
tainted blood move through small pores in
cellophane into a fluid rinse, and then back to a patient's circulatory
system. Over several years, Kolff built four different artificial kidney
machines. These experiments with kidney machines met with failure as he was only
allowed to try his invention on patients who were already close to death. The
advent of World War II made it difficult for Kolff to gather the materials he
needed to further his experiments.
Then, in 1950, Dr. Kolff joined the staff of the
Cleveland Clinic Foundation. He believed that he
would find more support and funds in the U.S., where the idea of an artificial
kidney was more accepted. Kolff spent the bulk of his first years at the
Cleveland Clinic working out improvements for his kidney machine. He was able to
increase clinical use of the kidney and played a major role in starting a kidney
Kolff also started the first Department of
Artificial Organs in the world at the Cleveland Clinic. Kolff's work has had a
major impact on the quality of life of people around the world. His device has
saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and each day, about 55,000 people are
being kept alive by dialysis.
Did You Know?
The process of dialysis replicates the work of
normal, healthy kidneys by removing waste, excess water, and salt so these do
not build up to an unhealthy level in the body. In addition dialysis (and
healthy kidneys) maintain safe levels of chemicals in the blood, such as
potassium, sodium, and bicarbonate, and also helps maintain a healthy blood
Find out more...