Dialyser Development

St Vincents University Hospital
Willem J Kolff “ Doctor, Inventor and Engineer” Born in the Netherlands on 14th February, 1911, Willem J Kolff invented the first practical artificial kidney, which over many years was refined and perfected leading to the hemodialysis machines that are now in regular use worldwide. He began his research in dialysis at Gottingen after watching a young man die from kidney failure, and later he became interested in blood transfusion as well.
Kolff's initial work on dialysis was almost a junk-yard challenge, building his machines from salvaged car and washing machine parts, orange juice cans and sausage skins. This was mainly due to World War II started at about the same time as his main research work and thus forced him to improvise to a great extent under the occupying forces. Although his machine was rather crude, he treated 16 patients with acute kidney failure, but had little success until 1945 when one of his female patients recovered from a uremic coma and went on to live another seven years. This woman was a known Nazi collaborator, but as a true doctor, he treated her as just another patient he had to save. He was also involved in helping the war-time Resistance, providing medical alibis that meant certain people were considered too ill to be worth arresting. In an act of incredible generosity, Kolff never patented his invention

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