Early hemodialysis machine

Edward Olson with the Kolff-Brigham kidney.

Photo courtesy of Baxter Healthcare Corporation

© CHIN 2001


In 1854, Scottish chemist Thomas Graham demonstrated that a semi-permeable ox bladder membrane allowed the selective diffusion of particles in solution. He called this process dialysis.
In the early 1940s in Holland, Willem Kolff noted that many renal patients died from excess toxins in the blood. He developed a number of artificial kidneys in an effort to treat these patients with dialysis. Subsequently, Willem Kolff working in collaboration with Edward Olson developed the Kolff-Brigham rotating drum kidney.
In the 1950s, two important developments contributed to the introduction of hemodialysis into clinical practice. Willem Kolff developed the twin coil disposable dialyser. Nils Alwall developed one of the first methods to permit repeated access to blood vessels essential for a long-term program of hemodialysis in patients with chronic renal disease.
In 1854, Scottish chemist Thomas Graham demonstrated that a semi-permeable ox bladder membrane allowed the selective diffusion of particles in solution. He called this process dialysis.
In the early 1940s in Holland, Willem Kolff noted that many renal patients died from excess toxins in the blood. He developed a number of artificial kidneys in an effort to treat these patients with dialysis. Subsequently, Willem Kolff working in collaboration with Edward Olson developed the Kolff-Brigham rotating drum kidney.
In the 1950s, two important developments contributed to the introduction of hemodialysis into clinical practice. Willem Kolff developed the twin coil disposable dialyser. Nils Alwall developed one of the first methods to permit repeated access to blood vessels essential for a long-term program of hemodialysis in patients with chronic renal disease.

© CHIN 2001

Cross-section of a twin-coil dialyser

Cross-section of a twin-coil dialyser.

Photo courtesy of Baxter Health Care Corporation

© CHIN 2001


Twin-coil dialyser

Twin-coil dialyser

Travenol Laboratories, Illinois, USA
Museum of Health Care at Kingston
Date unknown
998020040
© CHIN 2001


Inside each kidney there are about one million tiny units called nephrons. Each nephron is made up of a very small filter called a glomerulus, which is attached to a tubule. Water containing wastes is separated from the blood by the filters and flows into the tubules. Much of this water is returned to the blood by the tubules and the wastes are concentrated into urine.
The urine is collected from the tubules in a funnel-like renal pelvis and then flows through a tube called the ureter into the bladder.
Kidney failure may occur suddenly (acute) or over a long period of time (chronic). Acute renal failure is usually due to shock or severe infection. Chronic renal failure has many different causes, such as glomerulonephritis, diabetes and diseases of the blood vessels.
Hemodialysis is a process of ’cleaning’ the blood. During this treatment, blood is slowly withdrawn from the body and passed through an artificial kidney machine. The machine contains a dialyser, which has a space for the blood and a space for the dialysis fluid (dialysate). A very thin cellophane membrane separates these spaces from each other. Blood passes on one side of the membrane and Read More
Inside each kidney there are about one million tiny units called nephrons. Each nephron is made up of a very small filter called a glomerulus, which is attached to a tubule. Water containing wastes is separated from the blood by the filters and flows into the tubules. Much of this water is returned to the blood by the tubules and the wastes are concentrated into urine.
The urine is collected from the tubules in a funnel-like renal pelvis and then flows through a tube called the ureter into the bladder.
Kidney failure may occur suddenly (acute) or over a long period of time (chronic). Acute renal failure is usually due to shock or severe infection. Chronic renal failure has many different causes, such as glomerulonephritis, diabetes and diseases of the blood vessels.
Hemodialysis is a process of ’cleaning’ the blood. During this treatment, blood is slowly withdrawn from the body and passed through an artificial kidney machine. The machine contains a dialyser, which has a space for the blood and a space for the dialysis fluid (dialysate). A very thin cellophane membrane separates these spaces from each other. Blood passes on one side of the membrane and the dialysis fluid on the other side. Waste products in the blood pass through the membrane into the dialysis fluid and are carried away.

© CHIN 2001

Specimens of normal kidneys

Specimens of normal kidneys.

Courtesy of Museum of Health Care at Kingston

© CHIN 2001


Cross-section of a normal kidney

Cross-section of a normal kidney.

Photo courtesy of The Kidney Foundation of Canada

© CHIN 2001


Specimens of chronic kidney failure

Chronic renal failure is irreversible. Chronic failure is always fatal without dialysis treatment or transplantation.

Courtesy of Museum of Health Care at Kingston

© CHIN 2001


How hemodialysis works

Blood with toxins and wastes (dark red) flows from the patient to the dialyser. Clean blood (light red) returns to the patient. Clean dialysis fluid (light yellow) flows to the dialyser and the dialysis fluid with toxins and wastes (dark yellow) leaves the dialyser.

Graphic by Edwin Toffelmire and Rachel Bearse.

© CHIN 2001


Before hemodialysis became established and commercial hemodialysis machines were available, a number of prototypes were developed in Canada.
In the early 1940s, Gordon Murray developed the first artificial kidney in North America, without knowing of Kolff’s invention in Holland of about the same time. After extensive testing with animals, in 1946 the prototype machine was used successfully in clinical trials on four patients at the Toronto General Hospital. Work on a second-generation dialyser was abandoned due to lack of interest by other health professionals at the time.
During the 1960s, the essential principles of hemodialysis were established. By 1961, Dr. Belding Scribner had demonstrated that patients with chronic renal disease could be kept alive and in reasonable health with repeated renal dialysis treatments.
The KingMed Kidney was developed in Kingston by Peter Morrin, Fred Siemonson, Christopher English and Douglas Ackman. It was based on the ’Twin-Coil’ Kidney, but was designed to operate with a continuous flow of dialysis fluid and high and low blood pressure cut-out switches. The dialysis fluid flowed from a central tank and sever Read More
Before hemodialysis became established and commercial hemodialysis machines were available, a number of prototypes were developed in Canada.
In the early 1940s, Gordon Murray developed the first artificial kidney in North America, without knowing of Kolff’s invention in Holland of about the same time. After extensive testing with animals, in 1946 the prototype machine was used successfully in clinical trials on four patients at the Toronto General Hospital. Work on a second-generation dialyser was abandoned due to lack of interest by other health professionals at the time.
During the 1960s, the essential principles of hemodialysis were established. By 1961, Dr. Belding Scribner had demonstrated that patients with chronic renal disease could be kept alive and in reasonable health with repeated renal dialysis treatments.
The KingMed Kidney was developed in Kingston by Peter Morrin, Fred Siemonson, Christopher English and Douglas Ackman. It was based on the ’Twin-Coil’ Kidney, but was designed to operate with a continuous flow of dialysis fluid and high and low blood pressure cut-out switches. The dialysis fluid flowed from a central tank and several machines could be run in series. Four of these machines were used in the first dialysis unit in Kingston General Hospital in 1967.

© CHIN 2001

Artificial kidney - prototype

The first artificial kidney made in North America, simultaneously and independently of Willem Kolff´s invention in Holland. Parts were later used in a second experimental version of the artificial kidney.

Dr. Gordon Murray, Toronto General Hospital
University Health Network Artifact Collection
c. 1946
Electric motor-driven syringe pump system mounted on metal plate; roll of cellulose acetate casing;
1994.1.17
© CHIN 2001


KingMed hemodialysis machine

The KingMed dialysis machine built in Kingston

KingMed Ltd., Kingston
Museum of Health Care at Kingston
c. 1967
993009001
© CHIN 2001


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Identify and appreciate the way history and culture shape a society’s science and technology
  • Provide examples of how science and technology have influenced the diagnosis and treatment of human illness, and have made medical technology an integral part of our lives
  • Describe scientific and technological developments, past and present, and appreciate their impact on individuals and societies
  • Describe how Canadians have contributed to science and technology on the global stage

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