Making At-Home Kidney Dialysis Safer

Winter 2021

Members of the Relavo team, from left: Tejasvi Desai, Sarah Lee, and Anna Bailey

Relavo, a company founded by Johns Hopkins undergraduates, has been awarded a $500,000 KidneyX prize to develop a product that reduces the risk of contamination during at-home kidney dialysis treatments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a new sense of urgency to expand access to at-home dialysis, ensuring that vulnerable patients won’t have to visit in-person dialysis clinics for treatment, notes team leader Sarah Lee ’19 (BME), now a mechanical engineering graduate student.

“Kidney failure patients are high risk for complications from COVID-19—yet nearly half a million people in the U.S. still have to travel to dialysis clinics several times a week just to survive,” she says. “And with the risks for long-term kidney complications due to COVID-19, even in patients with no history of kidney disease, there is definitely a community-wide focus in supporting these patients now and in the future.”

Peritoneal dialysis is a form of kidney replacement therapy that patients self-administer at home, and studies have shown that it gives patients a better quality of life than other forms of dialysis. Despite its advantages, it remains underutilized due to higher risk of contamination that can lead to infection. To address this problem, the Relavo team developed PeritoneX, an affordable, disposable device that disinfects contaminated connection points before PD treatment begins.

KidneyX, also called the Kidney Innovation Accelerator, is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology. Established in April 2018, KidneyX prize competitions aim to accelerate the development of innovative solutions that can prevent, diagnose, and/or treat kidney diseases.

The Relavo team was one of six winners of the KidneyX Redesign Dialysis Phase 2 competition, which built off an inaugural prize competition and challenged participants to build and test prototypes that can replicate normal kidney functions or improve dialysis access. Lee says the KidneyX prize will primarily fund the team’s product development efforts and will pay salaries, allowing the company co-founders to work on the project full time.

This fall, Relavo participated in two global startup accelerator programs: the MassChallenge Boston program and the MedTech Innovator Accelerator, the largest accelerator for medical technology. Out of 1,000 applicants to the MedTech program, Relavo was selected as one of 50 showcase companies and one of 29 early-stage companies chosen to be part of its intensive accelerator program.