Your Dialysis Machine


Our dialysis machines are like our engines, it’s what helps keep us running. Like an engine in a car it has so many parts that do so many things, all for one purpose, make the car go. So how does our dialysis machine actually work? And where did the idea even come from to create one?

How does a dialysis machine work? 

The process can take up to 6 hours a session.

The purpose of your dialysis machine is for it to filter toxins out of your blood! The toxins that it filters out of your blood are; urea, creatinine, potassium (1). 

The machine does this with 3 main functions: 

  • The catheters that transfer your toxic blood into the machine through tubes
  • The dialyzer, which uses dialysate fluid to help remove and filter toxins in your blood
  • The tubing that comes out of the dialyzer which contains toxin-free blood and enters back into your body

The main function here is the dialyzer which utilizes the dialysate fluid. This fluid helps remove the unwanted waste products from your blood. It also helps level out electrolytes and minerals to the necessary level in your body (2). 

The dialyzer allows your blood and the dialysate fluid to flow through the machine at the same time. During this process, it is important to note that your blood and the dialysate never mix together or even touch while being passed through the dialyzer. Once impurities are filtered from your blood they are then transferred into the dialysate fluid which is then discarded properly. This process will continue for the entirety of your session, which to some patients can be six hours a day. 

Who invented the dialysis machine?

Dr. Willem Kolff MD, PhD

Dr. Kolff’s idea wasn’t exactly the dialysis machine we have today. His idea was referred to as the artificial kidney and would inspire the technology advances we have available today. 

Would you believe that all it took was laundry tubs, a wooden drum, metal, a semipermeable sausage casing, and an electric motor to create the first dialysis machine? 

Dr. Kolff’s idea was this: “if a machine could replace the failing kidney for a few days to weeks, filtering out acid and waste materials from the blood, then the kidney tissue could regenerate and function again” (3).

How did he do it?

So he conducted his experiment by filing the sausage casing with blood and added the uremic toxin Urea (which is a kidney waste product) and shook it up in saltwater. From this Dr. Kolff was able to see that some urea had passed through the sausage casing and into the saltwater leaving no disturbance to the blood molecules used. Hence, the idea of dialysis was born (3). 

Dr. Kolff was able to successfully use this theory on patients and help extend the lives of those affected by low functioning kidneys. 

Later on, in 1948 Dr. Kolff was invited to work alongside Dr. Carl Walters and Dr. John Merrill to redesign the artificial kidney for kidney transplant program use. 

Take a look at the evolution of the dialysis machine here.

The continued search for a better way

Peritoneal dialysis is another dialysis option.

If you’re on dialysis and take medications for your low functioning kidneys, don’t give up hope that there is a better form of treatment coming to kidney care. 

Because kidney disease is on the rise and is the 9th leading cause of death in the United States (4) it has now become a top priority for the United States government to continue research and development on dialysis alternatives. 

Organizations such as KidneyX, were formed as the result of a partnership between the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN). KidneyX has been engaging with researchers and innovators to find the next big idea in kidney care to help prevention, diagnostics, and treatment.

Learn more about KidneyX here

The Take Away

The world of medicine is always changing and improving, and with the emphasized importance of kidney care let’s continue to support those in our community who are helping us think of new and improved ways to live with low functioning kidneys.

If you are currently on dialysis and are considering moving to home hemodialysis read this article from Dr. Jenna Henderson about her own personal story of moving from in center to at-home hemodialysis.

Remember, consult with your healthcare practitioner to see if you are at risk of kidney problems.

For more on kidney health, be sure to follow and subscribe.

Temple University Graduate aiming to provide meaningful and useful content to those searching for information regarding their health. “It matters to me how my work affects others, and I am happy to be apart of something so wonderful”. 

Nicole can be reached at


  1. National Kidney Foundation. (2020, April 16). Hemodialysis. Retrieved from 
  2. Joe S. Davita. (n.d.). How does a dialysis machine work. Retrieved from 
  3. American Society of Nephrology. (n.d.). Willem Kolff: Honoring a pioneer of modern dialysis. Retrieved from 
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 7). Chronic Kidney Disease Basics. Retrieved from