Monday, September 20, 2010
Hemodialysis Gets Serious
Photos, left to right: Dr. Belding Scribner, inventor of the shunt; Wayne Quinton, who built the first shunt; Dr. James Cimino, Dr.Kenneth Appell, and Dr. Michael Brescia, who pioneered the AV fistula which is used for hemodialysis today.
Dr. Willem Kolff built the first dialysis machines, but they were made practical for treating end stage renal failure by Dr. Belding Scribner at the UW.
Scribner grew up in Chicago, got his medical degree at Stanford and did his post-grad work at the Mayo Clinic. He joined the faculty of the School of Medicine at the UW in 1951. Like Dr. Kolff, he was deeply affected by the deaths of renal patients.
Dr. Kolff's dialysis machines could get acute renal failure patients through a crisis until their kidneys began to function again, but patients with end-stage renal disease could not be saved. Surgery to open up access to veins and arteries damaged blood vessels so that after a few treatments it became impossible for doctors to access a patient's blood.
Scribner said that one night in 1959 he woke up with the idea for a shunt in the patient's arm, using plastic tubes, one inserted into an artery and one into a vein, with the tubes connected by a piece of tubing in between dialysis sessions. He brought his idea for the shunt to Wayne Quinton.
Wayne Quinton was a medical engineer at the UW in charge of building, maintaining, and inventing medical instruments for the Medical School. Quinton figured out how to build the shunt Scribner had envisioned. Suddenly it was possible for people to have long-term dialysis, and end stage renal disease went from fatal to treatable.
Right: the Quinton-Scribner shunt
There were only six dialysis machines in Seattle, though, and there were more renal patients than could be treated. Scribner decided that he would not make the decision of who would get dialysis. A committee was formed to review cases and decide who would receive treatment. The formation of this committee is recognized as the beginning of bioethics. Such committees decide who will and will not receive organ transplants, for example.
Dr. Scribner worked with the King County Medical Society to found the Seattle Artificial Kidney Center, which became the Northwest Kidney Centers, in January, 1962. It was the first out-patient dialysis center, and was the model for how hemodialysis is done today. Currently any patient who needs dialysis gets dialysis.
Scribner and Quentin had revolutionized hemodialysis, but the shunt had problems – clots tended to form in the tubing, for example.
Comes now Dr. Kenneth Appell, who grew up in Queens, New York. After serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II, he returned to New York to complete his medical and surgical training.
Dr. Appell installed many of the Scribner shunts, but was not happy with the problems they had, chiefly clotting in the tubing. He came to believe that it would be possible to create an arteriovenus (AV) fistula in a renal patient's arm. This means that an artery would be stitched together with a vein, with a hole (fistula) in between that would allow arterial blood to flow directly into the vein, thereby avoiding the problems of the shunts. Arterial pressure on the vein causes it to enlarge. It takes weeks to months for a fistula to “mature,” but then two needles can be inserted into the vein regularly to remove blood for dialysis and put the filtered blood back into the patient's body. This is the “gold standard” for hemodialysis today.
Two of Appel's interns, Drs. James Cimino and Michael Brescia, began doing Dr. Appell's AV fistula surgery in 1966.
Right: a drawing showing how an AV fistula is constructed within the arm
Since the 1960s, millions of lives have been saved by hemodialysis and the techniques developed by Drs. Scribner, Appell, Cimino, and Brescia and their teams.
As for Wayne Quinton – in 1959 he quit his job at the UW and started a business called Quinton Instruments to market his inventions which the UW declined to develop. Most famous of these were the Scribner shunt, and a treadmill he invented for cardiac stress tests. Every treadmill you see today can trace its history to the self-winding mind of Wayne Quinton.
Right: A drawing Rick made of his "wristula" in December, 2009, when he was healing from the surgery