Year of Invention: 1944
What Is It? A mechanical filtration system to replace the function of defective
kidneys and remove impurities from human blood.
Who Invented It? Willem Kolff (in Kampen, Holland)
The human kidney is a biological marvel. Kidneys purify the blood, maintain blood pH balance, regulate the production of various hormones and vitamins, and remove a wide variety of life-threatening toxins.
Kidney dialysis has saved and prolonged the lives of millions worldwide. Dialysis helped set the stage for kidney transplant and the transplanting of other organs. Kidney dialysis was the first procedure that allowed medical scientists to use machines to artificially perform the function of an organ.
Even Roman doctors understood that many people died because their blood became toxic. However, no one knew what to do about it. Bloodletting (draining cups or pints of blood from a patient) and leaching (using leaches to suck out toxins from a patient’s blood) were popular therapies, but did nothing to attack the real problem.
Beginning in the 1600s European doctors suspected that kidney failure was the cause of the “toxic blood” that killed so many patients. They searched for ways to either cure a failing kidney or perform its function outside of the body. However, through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, no real progress was made on either goal.
Late in 1940, Dutch physician Willem Kolff, who was working for Germany, was assigned to work in the municipal hospital in Kampen, Holland. World War II was in full swing. Germany had occupied lowland countries and had taken over the management of most governmental functions.