The Amazing History of Kidney Treatment (Slideshow)

Discoveries that led to today's kidney treatments


What has shaped our knowledge of kidney health and helped researchers find effective ways to manage chronic kidney disease? Innovation can be quirky — like the experimental use of a washing machine as a dialysis machine. This slideshow spans the century and explores how medical discoveries are found and developed — and how Cleveland Clinic doctors have contributed to our understanding of this essential human organ: your kidneys.


  • 1943

    The first widely used and practical artificial kidney was developed by Willem Kolff, MD, PhD. This photo shows the first four artificial kidney dialysis machines built by Dr. Kolff in the Netherlands. Cleveland Clinic had one of the nation's first hospital-based dialysis units in the 1950s. Patients came from all across the country to take advantage of this then-rare treatment.
  • 1948

    Irvine H. Page, MD, shown in his lab during the 1940s, played an essential role in the field of hypertension for almost 60 years. He discovered the link between heart disease and hypertension in 1948.
  • 1950

    Willem Kolff, MD, PhD, improved and perfected his first kidney dialysis machine. This picture shows a compact, low-cost dialysis machine using the shell of an ordinary washing machine. The device never caught on, because of the washing machine manufacturer's legal concerns about having its products used in a healthcare setting.
  • 1955

    The Risk Assessment Score for predicting renal failure in the ICU was developed by Charuhas Thakar, MD, and Emil P. Paganini, MD, FACP, in 2000. In this photo, Dr. Paganini cares for a patient.
  • 1959

    Willem J. Kolff, MD, established the chronic dialysis program in 1959. This photo shows a nurse caring for a patient receiving kidney dialysis from the pioneering machine developed by Dr. Kolff.
  • 1960

    In the Organ Preservation Lab with William S. Kiser, MD, (left) Magnus O. Magnusson, MD, and organ preservation specialist Claudie Williams. Dr. Kiser was part of the Cleveland Clinic team that performed a landmark series of cadaver kidney transplants in the 1960s. The three experts are gazing at two kidneys in an organ preservation module.
  • 1963

    Willem J. Kolff, MD, with the twin-coil artificial kidney he developed in 1963.
  • 1972

    The first glomerular filtration rate (GFR) test was performed at Cleveland Clinic’s Renal Function Lab in 1972. In this photo, Stevan B. Streem, MD, (left) and Phillip Hall, MD, (right) confer on a patient’s test results.
  • 2007

    An implantable artificial kidney device, which uses nanotechnology to filter blood through ultra-thin silicon wafers, is being developed. William H. Fissell, MD, and his team were awarded $3.2 million from the National Institutes of Health for research.

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