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Alisha Birk, Mark Buckup, and Janelle Kaneda

B.S.H. ’19

Bioengineering

May 2019
We met a patient the other day who was about 3 years old.

She recently had a kidney infection and had to be hospitalized. Her parents explained how complicated the dialysis process is and how challenging it is to keep her healthy. They were telling us that they’re constantly thinking, “Oh my gosh, are we doing this right?” And they’re not doctors, so that can be extremely overwhelming. We hope the device we’re working on gets to the point where it can be used by patients like this young girl one day.

Going into our senior capstone class, we didn’t know very much about kidney dialysis. We went from very little knowledge to a working prototype of a tool that could eventually improve the quality of life for dialysis patients, and that was really rewarding. We started the project 8 months ago. In a nutshell, we designed a device that enables early detection of infection in the waste fluid of peritoneal dialysis patients.

Peritoneal dialysis is a type of treatment for kidney failure that uses a patient’s abdominal lining to clean the blood. In the U.S., over 26,500 patients use peritoneal dialysis each year and are at risk for developing peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal lining. Patients who don’t detect the infection early enough often have to undergo harsh and less convenient methods of dialysis. The current method for detecting peritonitis involves the patient self-reporting their symptoms and then sending in their dialysis waste for testing, which can take up to 8 days. Our tool would aim to alert patients about the presence of infection before symptoms appear so that they could be treated more quickly.

We’re all graduating this year, and we plan to continue the project part time. Based on the success of the project so far, I think everyone expects us to build a startup, but we still want to focus on getting more education so that we can continue to refine our ideas. I think the thing that excites us more than anything else isn’t the money or the attention, it’s the fact that we’ve designed something that has the potential to really help people.

Photo credit: Jack Li

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