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Polymers go to combat to treat kidney failure

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The Syensqo company, comprising the solutions, activities and markets represented in the article below, was spun off from Solvay group in December 2023.

Sulfone polymers for more efficient hemodialysis

Polymer membranes are a crucial element in the hemodialysis procedure. And these membranes are made of sulfone polymers, a technology in which Solvay has deep expertise.

Hemodialysis is the medical procedure used in the case of kidney failure. When a patient’s kidneys are no longer able to complete their filtering mission, a machine can take over, and remove fluid and waste from their blood by running it through a dialysis membrane, which is composed of roughly 10,000 hollow fibers with microscopic wall openings that remove toxins and excess water.

Today, the need for hemodialysis is rising globally, due to a combination of aging populations, increasing kidney failure factors such as obesity, and better access to healthcare, particularly in Asia where the number of untreated patients is estimated to be high. Fortunately, the efficiency of the hemodialysis procedure has been increasing as well.

Up until the 1980s, membranes used to filter blood were made of cellulose acetate, a material that came with adverse side effects. In collaboration with hemodialysis equipment manufacturers, Solvay developed a specific polysulfone polymer for hemodialysis that corrects these issues: Udel® PSU.

Plastics as biocompatible materials

A high-purity, high-performance grade of sulfone polymer, Udel® is well suited, first of all because of its biocompatibility. Patients’ blood can be put in contact with it before going back into their arteries without any risk, and this has been the case for over 25 years. In fact, the biocompatibility many polymers offer is a key argument for their use in several other healthcare applications where Solvay products are present as well, such as long-term medical implants.

The same actually goes for another major ingredient in the hemodialysis procedure, pharmaceutical grade sodium bicarbonate, which is not only biocompatible but completely harmless for human health. Similarly, we have also developed Veradel® PESU, a polyethersulfone polymer that is used for making hemodialysis membranes as well.


Fine tuning the procedure of hemodialysis

As a constantly innovating provider of hemodialysis membranes, Solvay is helping the medical industry (like in many other healthcare applications) keep up with the rapidly growing number of people who require treatment. “Haemodialysis membranes manufactured with sulfone polymers from Solvay have treated tens of millions of patients, and Solvay is the innovation leader in this field,” explains Jesal Chopra, Vice President - Healthcare, Environment, Consumer, & Construction, Specialty Polymers."

On top, there are always further improvements to make, and we continue to work hand- in-hand with hemodialysis membrane manufacturers to improve the patient experience. "We are working on material solutions with the intent of improving hemocompatibility and thrombogenic responses to the dialysis procedures,” says Jesal. This could help reduce complications related to the procedure and improve patient outcomes.

Better membranes for better hemodialysis: tweaking the properties of plastics can actually improve the quality of life of millions of people.