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Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Researchers Get One Step Closer to Non-invasive Test for Kidney Rejection

Doctor conducting kidney exam on child.

Monitoring kidney transplant rejection in children is akin to sticking your hand into five pots of water, four of which could burn you. The only surefire way to know if a child is rejecting the organ is with a biopsy. The procedure is invasive, requires anesthesia, carries risks of complications and is expensive. In other words, it’s very hot water. 

Yet every kidney transplant patient at Children’s of Alabama receives a routine biopsy six months after transplant. Only about one 1 in 5, however, actually show signs of rejection, meaning most of those biopsies were unnecessary. Now imagine there was a simple blood or urine test to tell which children were likely to reject the kidney and need a biopsy. That could mean going from 1 in 5 biopsies positive for rejection to 4 in 5 or 5 in 5, sparing hundreds of children from a painful procedure they don’t need.

Pediatric nephrologist Michael E. Seifert, MD, and his team have been working for years on developing such a test, using a large biorepository of patients’ blood, urine and kidney biopsy tissue collected throughout and after the transplant process.

Their work involves investigating gene expression in the tissue samples to find signals of rejection. But while they are good at identifying abnormalities from a piece of biopsy tissue, the process still has room for improvement. With the way tissue is processed, it’s difficult to determine if the abnormal signals are coming from cells that are relevant for rejection—such as immune cells—or from cells that don’t play a role in rejection.

Now, Seifert and his lab are using a novel technique called spatial transcriptomics, or spatial gene expression assays, which enable them to “see” the signals in the context of their natural habitat without destroying the underlying tissues.

“Spatial transcriptomics allows you to develop non-invasive biomarkers that are more reflective of the underlying biology of the disease you’re interested in, such as rejection,” Seifert said. And those more precise biomarkers could narrow down the number of patients who require biopsies. “This will help us understand the mechanisms of kidney transplant injury and rejection with much higher precision,” he said.

Before this technique, they used one of two methods to study gene expression in the tissue. One is to take the tissue, grind it up, see which genes are high and which are low, then develop a test based on the findings. The other is to separate a piece of biopsy tissue into its component cells and individually examine their gene expression. That’s more precise than the bulk gene expression or grinding method, Seifert said, but you lose any spatial context as to where in the tissue the cell came from.

One way to think about it is having all your furniture jammed into a pod in the front yard, taking a chair into the house, and hoping it’s the right piece for that spot by the window. But without the rest of the furniture in the room, it’s hard to know. With spatial transcriptomics, he said, you’re viewing the chair in context with the rest of the furniture.

“The spatial platform is a really incredible tool in that it allows you to be so precise in the areas of the kidney that you’re studying,” Seifert said. He can also isolate cells he’s interested in from the rest of the tissue without disturbing the tissue itself. “Being able to keep the tissue intact enables you to assign geographic locations for the different signals you’re getting when you test the tissue,” he said. 

“We’re just beginning to learn all the ways we can apply it to kidney transplant diseases.”

He and his team presented their first paper on their findings using the new platform at the American Transplant Congress in Boston in June.

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

With Parental Training, Children Undergo Home Dialysis While They Sleep         

The team at Children’s of Alabama’s Renal Care Center works hard to transition children and their families to home dialysis

Going to the hospital three to five times a week and being hooked up to a machine for hours at a time is no life for a child. Yet that’s exactly what children with end-stage kidney disease waiting for a transplant spend their time doing. Which is why the team at Children’s of Alabama’s Renal Care Center works so hard to transition children and their families to home dialysis. Currently, of the 30 children they have on dialysis, 17 are able to get their treatments at home.

“In general, home therapy is best for children,” said pediatric nephrologist and Renal Care Center director  Sahar Fathallah-Shaykh, MD. Since the dialysis is typically performed while the child sleeps, they miss less school and have more free time for friends and family. Plus, parents don’t miss work. Still, she said, “We understand that some parents don’t want to do it because it’s very stressful to be responsible for it.”

If parents do want to try home dialysis, the first step is a home visit from a social worker or dialysis nurse. They ensure there is enough space for the machines with the correct electrical outlets and an environment that doesn’t increase the risk of infection, which would require hospitalization. 

Next, the family meets with a dialysis coordinator to learn what’s expected of them. “We make sure we tell them everything ahead of time,” Fathallah-Shaykh said. Finally, the medical team holds a home dialysis selection meeting, where they decide if home dialysis is the right choice for the patient. If it is,  the next step is surgery to implant the catheter needed for home therapy.

Meanwhile,  caregivers undergo extensive training. “It’s a very standardized process to ensure they understand not only how we do things, but why,” Fathallah-Shaykh said. Before the child goes on home dialysis, they spend a couple days in the hospital, where the parents perform dialysis under the watchful eye of the dialysis nurses. “We make sure they’re doing it right, and they have no hesitancy or issues with doing it at home,” she said. When both parents and the Children’s team are comfortable, patients are sent home. “We’re here for them all the time,” Fathallah-Shaykh added.

There are two types of home dialysis: peritoneal dialysis, which uses the lining of the abdomen to filter blood inside the body through a catheter, and hemodialysis, a more complex procedure that requires the caregiver to insert two needles into the child’s fistula or graft, so blood can flow from the body to a machine where it is filtered and then sent back into the body. Children’s is one of only three pediatric centers in the country that train families to do hemodialysis at home. To date, the Children’s Renal Care Center has placed three children on home hemodialysis. 

Although hemodialysis has gotten easier in recent years with machines specifically developed for the home that are easier to set up, clean and disinfect, it’s still invasive. “And they have to deal with blood, which is a lot for some families,” Fathallah-Shayk said. “So we have to have motivated families to do that.” 

Hemodialysis training typically lasts several weeks, while peritoneal training may take only a few days or a week. Regardless of which process is used, she said, “We take our time to make sure families are comfortable doing it.”

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Lecture Series helps Pediatric Nephrology Fellows Learn and Gain Confidence

Michael Seifert, M.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and an associate professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.
Michael Seifert, MD, is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and an associate professor in the Division of Nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

At any given time, the nephrology department at Children’s of Alabama is training three fellows, one for each year of its three-year program. The program is one of the best in the country, but one thing it lacked until recently, according to pediatric nephrologist Michael E. Seifert, MD, was a formalized educational curriculum. 

To fill that need, the department started a weekly lecture series in July 2021. It runs throughout the academic year, and lectures focus on topics that correspond to content themes in the American Board of Pediatrics Pediatric Nephrology Certification Exam. The goal is to educate the fellows about topics they will encounter frequently—such as hypertension—or topics most fellows would have had limited experience with as pediatric residents—such as dialysis and kidney transplantation. 

It’s not the first time the department has offered lectures for fellows; the difference now is that it’s a formalized program.

“We always had some faculty give lectures for our fellows but had never organized a formal didactic curriculum for our fellowship program,” said Seifert, who’s the associate program director for the Pediatric Nephrology Fellowship program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “We often sent our fellows to formal lectures delivered through the adult nephrology program.  While these are high quality, they were often not relevant for pediatric nephrology.” 

In the new program, Division of Pediatric Nephrology faculty give the majority of the lectures. Occasionally, speakers also include guests from other divisions who speak on topics that might relate to kidney issues. For example, a urologist might speak on bowel and bladder dysfunction; a rheumatologist might provide a broader view of lupus, which often affects the kidney.

The fellows are also encouraged to prepare and deliver their own talks to develop some of their presentation and public speaking skills in a friendly environment. “They really appreciate that opportunity to hone their skills in a relatively low-risk setting,” Seifert said.

The didactic lectures are interspersed with journal clubs and case discussions. “We had a fellow recently who did a great presentation of a complex case that he was taking care of and how it spurred a quality improvement project,” pediatric nephrologist Erica Bjornstad, MD, said.

“We’re really trying to help build their confidence in clinical pediatric nephrology but also in how we can take that further beyond just clinical education to spur their research or quality improvement ideas,” she said. 

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Children’s Clinicians Track COVID’s Surprising Impact on the Kidney

Erica Bjornstad, MD, is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama.

What is the impact of COVID-19 on the kidney, both in adults and children? That’s the question Erica Bjornstad, MD, and others have been studying since the pandemic started. Their recent paper, published in BMC Nephrology, provides the first data demonstrating the risk of acute kidney disease among the entire age range, from newborns to 99-year-olds. The findings, Bjornstad said, were surprising.

“We all know that the severity of COVID is worse the older you are, and we’re not disputing that,” she said. “But what we found is that risk of acute kidney injury, or AKI, does not go in a straight line.” Instead, it has a bimodal distribution, with the risk peaking in children between ages 10 and 15, decreasing until about 30, then continuing to rise in a more linear fashion. The study was based on the records of 6,874 patients hospitalized with the virus.

“Why does a 10-to-15-year-old have the same risk of acute kidney injury as a 65-year-old, but a higher risk than a 35-year-old?” she asked. The higher risk in children held even after accounting for those with chronic medical conditions.

Bjornstad and her coauthors hypothesize that it may have to do with how the virus attacks the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels, although that doesn’t explain the effect in adolescents. “Maybe there are hormonal changes happening during puberty that make them more susceptible to kidney injury risk. We really don’t know why. All we can say is that the epidemiological data shows it exists, and we need to study that further.”

The study also found a high rate of AKI in non-critically ill patients—those who were not in the ICU—something that previously had not been reported. However, the children who do get AKI with COVID are generally very sick and hospitalized, she said. “I haven’t seen children come to my attention from the outpatient side who got COVID, were never hospitalized, and now have kidney problems,” although there have been very rare cases elsewhere.

The findings are important for clinicians who treat children, adolescents and younger adults, she said. “For the most part, COVID is benign in kids. But we have to have a higher index of suspicion for acute kidney injury in this population.”

“If something doesn’t feel right, or the child isn’t acting right, even after very mild cold-like symptoms, we should run some blood tests to check for the injury resulting from the endothelial attack,” she said. The concern about AKI comes because it increases the risk for high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease.

Bjornstad and other nephrologists at Children’s also published a review article in Pediatric Nephrology last year highlighting all that was known to date on the impact of COVID on the kidney in pediatric patients. The paper included several clinical pearls for clinicians. For instance, early in the pandemic there was concern that anyone with COVID taking an ACE inhibitor should stop. “But there’s really good data that if you have a child with COVID on an ACE inhibitor they should not stop it,” she said.

Their papers and others on the topic generally end with the same call for more research. “There are some immune dysregulation syndromes that affect the glomerular part of the kidney that is presumably triggered by COVID,” Bjornstad said.  “But we need to keep looking to see if there are other mechanisms.”

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Children’s Clinicians Teach the Rest of the World How to Start a Neonatal Dialysis Program

Pediatric nephrologist David Askenazi, MD.

It’s always wonderful when something you created exceeds your expectations. That’s what’s happened with the Neonatal and Infant Course for Kidney Support (NICKS), a one-and-a-half-day educational program on infant dialysis that combines didactic teaching from a variety of specialists, an opportunity to hear a parental perspective, “hands-on” skills sessions, and virtual small group case simulations.

Pediatric nephrologist David Askenazi, MDco-founded the course in 2019 with acute dialysis nurse practitioner Kara Short, MSN, CRNP, after new technology enabled safer and more effective dialysis on neonates and small children. The two realized there was a huge need for clinicians to understand how dialysis is different for this population. 

The program was supposed to be held in person, but COVID drove it online, which worked to their benefit by making the course more accessible. They’ve held nine courses so far, all sold out with large waiting lists (they try to limit it to 50 a class). “We don’t just talk about the dialysis machines,” Askenazi said, “but also clinical scenarios, troubleshooting, medications, nutrition, educating the nursing staff and tracking quality improvement. Participants learn how to build a program, not just run a machine.”

To date, 359 clinicians have attended the training, including 120 nephrologists and 52 neonatologists, as well as nurses and nurse practitioners. Attendees have logged on from as far as Qatar, Israel and South Africa, and nearly every major children’s hospital in the country has had at least one attendee. 

“We find it so important to share our patient stories and our lessons learned the hard way in order to empower other programs to confidently treat their patients and hopefully help babies like we have,” Short said.

The course will begin live sessions this fall, with a limit of 20 participants. Askenazi and Short are also planning an international neonatal nephrology symposium for fall 2024.

For more information, contact David Askenazi, MD, MSPH, FASN, at daskenazi@peds.uab.edu or Kara Short, MSN, CRNP, at kara.short@childrensal.org.

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Neonatal Kidney Collaborative Advances Understanding of Acute Kidney Injury

David Askenazi, M.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and a professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.

David Askenazi, M.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and a professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.

A bunch of pediatric nephrologists and neonatologists walk into a National Institutes of Health meeting on neonatal acute kidney injury (AKI) in 2013. The punchline? They are inspired to form the Neonatal Kidney Collaborative (NKC) with the clever website address of babykidney.org.

“At that NIH meeting, we recognized that bringing people to work together on multicenter studies was a critical step in moving the field forward,” said Children’s of Alabama pediatric nephrologist David J. Askenazi, M.D., one of the founding members and current NKC Board chair.

Today, the collaborative boasts 77 participating institutions with 168 members and 19 published manuscripts. Several of those publications come from the group’s inaugural study called AWAKEN (Assessment of Worldwide Acute Kidney Injury Epidemiology in Neonates), the first multinational, multicenter study on neonatal AKI.

The study involved a retrospective review of three months of data on 2,162 infants in Level 2 or 3 neonatal intensive care units in four countries, a third of whom had AKI. The investigators found those with AKI were 4.6 times more likely to die and stayed in the hospital an average of 8.8 days longer than those without. Other results from AWAKEN include risk factors for mortality and the development of AKI (such as low albumin and hemoglobin levels) and hypo- and hypernatremia, as well as a link between intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) and AKI.

“We chose the name AWAKEN because we felt like the field needed to be awakened,” Dr. Askenazi said. And it’s worked, he said, with the number of studies, initiatives and young people interested in neonatal nephrology growing exponentially.

The collaborative, he said, “not only provides opportunities to study neonatal kidney disease, but we also have committees to address the educational, advocacy, and research needs of this evolving field.”

The group recently received a significant research grant from Nuwellis, a global company focused on fluid management solutions for pediatric and adult patients, to perform the ALMOND (Assessing Longitudinal Micropreemie Outcomes in Neonates at Risk for Renal Disease) study. “This research effort will expand our understanding of neonatal kidney disease in extremely premature neonates who were enrolled in a multicenter trial called PENUT (Preterm Erythropoietin Neuroprotection Trial),” he said.

The study will use the PENUT database, which contains thousands of clinical data points and hundreds of thousands of urine biomarker data points from more than 900 babies. “It’s a goldmine,” said Dr. Askenazi. “It will allow the NKC to pose and answers questions about kidney disease in extremely premature neonates, including whether caffeine, commonly prescribed to these infants, can prevent AKI; determine the fluid provision to improve clinical outcomes; and identify additional risk factors for neonatal AKI, among other questions.”

“The work of this collaborative is contagious, and it drives me,” he said. “It makes me want to continue to help move the field forward and support young doctors who are filled with energy and excitement.”

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Tracking Kidney Transplant Rejection in the Blood and Urine 

Michael Seifert, M.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and an associate professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.

Michael Seifert, M.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and an associate professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.

Children who receive kidney transplants at Children’s of Alabama undergo a routine biopsy six months after the procedure to look for signs of rejection. In about 20 percent of patients, those signs are there, even if their blood and urine tests look normal. “On the flip side,” said Children’s pediatric nephrologist Michael E. Seifert, M.D., “that means about 80 percent of our patients are getting biopsies that are normal.” 

The holy grail, then, would be a non-invasive biomarker test using blood or urine that can identify kidney transplant injury without needing a biopsy — which is exactly what Dr. Seifert and his lab are working on. Their research relies on a biorepository of patients’ blood, urine, and kidney biopsy tissue collected throughout and after the transplant process. 

One of the blood tests they’re working on uses technology originally developed to screen maternal blood for signs of fetal abnormalities. The test looks for cell-free DNA, or cfDNA, which comes from the fetus and differs from maternal DNA. Since transplanted kidneys also have DNA different from the patient’s own kidney, “you can look in the bloodstream for the proportion of the DNA coming from the transplant versus the normal background from the recipient’s non-transplant cells,” Dr. Seifert said. High levels of cfDNA is a sign of acute kidney injury that could be due to rejection.  

Studies in adults validate this as a good method to detect rejection. “But the problem is, those are done in adults whose native kidneys would be roughly similar in size to the transplant they’re carrying,” Dr. Seifert said. Children often have a much larger, adult-sized transplant compared to the size of their native kidneys, so the cutoff levels used for diagnosing rejection in adults may not work in children. “We’re trying to make these existing diagnostic tests more pediatric specific,” he said. 

The story is different for urinary biomarkers. It’s been known for years that the kidney releases certain proteins when it’s injured. Tests to detect those proteins, however, can take days. But a new device called SimplePlex, currently available only in the research setting, can measure several of these proteins at one time in a single sample in less than an hour.   

“We’re looking at ways to get this technology closer to the clinic, so you’re not just profiling kidney transplant patients’ risk for injury based on their standard blood tests like creatinine, but you’re also adding these additional biomarkers that can tell you more information about what’s happening inside the organ,” Dr. Seifert said.  

Being able to determine via blood and urine tests who needs a biopsy and who doesn’t would have a huge impact for pediatrics, particularly at Children’s, where these biopsies are done on a universal basis, he said. Ideally, the tests could also provide information on the underlying cause of the rejection. For instance, the cfDNA test is good at picking up antibody-mediated rejection, but not as good at recognizing cell-mediated rejection. The urine biomarkers are good at identifying both rejection types, but not at identifying rejection related to viral infections. 

“Once we understand more about the clinical scenarios in which the biomarkers perform well,” said Dr. Seifert, “we’ll be able to design interventional trials to treat the patient based on the biomarker changes rather than just the standard clinical tests such as creatinine.”  

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Childhood Household Dysfunction Predicts Hypertension, Vascular Injury in Adolescents 

Dan Feig, M.D., Ph.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and a professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.

Dan Feig, M.D., Ph.D., is a pediatric nephrologist at Children’s of Alabama and a professor in the Division of Nephrology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics.

Verbal and physical abuse; neglect; and household dysfunction such as divorce, domestic violence, and poverty in early childhood (called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs) affect approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of children in the United States. They also put those children at significantly increased risk for health issues like hypertension and cardiovascular disease as adults.  

“Ideally, we would like to prevent neglect, maltreatment, abuse, and household dysfunction,” said Children’s of Alabama pediatric nephrologist Daniel Feig, M.D., Ph.D. “But until that can be achieved, we need to work on mitigating their long-term effects.” Dr. Feig’s work looks at whether experiences have already changed the vascular function of individuals exposed to ACEs and whether those changes are reversible.  

“We want to see if there’s a detectable signal, something that puts them in the risk category for future disease and identify those who would benefit from intervention or therapy,” he said. 

Dr. Feig and his team used validated questionnaires to screen 78 teens for the three types of ACEs: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Nearly 70 percent had been exposed to at least one ACE. The investigators also tracked the adolescents’ blood pressure with a 24-hour continuous ambulatory blood pressure monitor; measured their pulse wave velocity (a marker of blood vessel elasticity and reactivity); and looked for markers of inflammation and increased vascular tone in their bloodwork. 

They found that compared to teens with no exposure or with exposure to abuse and neglect, individuals exposed to household dysfunction had a significantly higher 24-hour diastolic blood pressure without the normal drop that occurs at night. They also found a significantly increased baseline inflammatory state. Those who experienced sexual abuse had substantially altered pulse wave velocity, which meant their blood vessels were stiffer. Despite these changes, the children had normal blood pressure. 

“This tells us that even as early as 10 to 12 years after exposure there are detectable alterations in vascular biology associated with the ACEs,” Dr. Feig said. “These individuals might benefit from interventions to reverse or slow those changes to prevent the progression of hypertension and the later risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

The team expected to see more changes in children with a history of exposure to abuse. Dr. Feig hypothesizes that the chronic nature of household dysfunction may be behind the vascular changes. “Things that reset the biology of the vessels are slow and steady effectors,” he said. “That can be dietary, that can be obesity, that can be emotional stressors, or chronic inflammation. I think that the household dysfunction category might have a greater continuous effect as opposed to episodes of horrific injury.” 

The next step is to intervene with medications to try and reduce inflammation and prevent the progression of vascular dysfunction.  

The group is currently following the study participants and hope to secure funding for larger longitudinal studies. 

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Overflow at Children’s of Alabama’s Dialysis Unit

As the only pediatric dialysis unit in the state, Children’s of Alabama’s hemodialysis unit is used to being busy. But with COVID-19, “Our census has doubled,” said Children’s nephrologist Sahar Fathallah-Shaykh, M.D. One reason is that transplants were paused during the height of the pandemic, leaving many children who might have been able to stop dialysis forced to continue.  

Another reason is that more infants born with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are surviving because of new equipment capable of providing them dialysis. “We have seen many patients with CKD surviving who, just a few years ago, had no chance of surviving,” Dr. Fathallah-Shaykh said. Because these infants are so small, they must come to the hospital up to five times a week for the procedure, compared to three times a week for older children. Once infants are older, the team tries to transition them to peritoneal dialysis at home; but babies may have medical contraindications that require continuing on hemodialysis. 

The impact on the staff is significant, she said. “It’s a challenge.” Dialysis charge nurse Suzanne White, RN, ECP agrees. “It takes a lot of coordination to schedule treatments for 18 patients,” she said, particularly when treatment times last up to four hours. “Our days last 10 to 12 hours,” she said. 

One reason caring for infants on dialysis calls for intense attention, said Dr. Fathallah-Shayk, is that “nurses are at the bedside the entire time monitoring these babies. Babies move a lot, and if they move, the dialysis may not work as well.” The nurses console the babies, try to distract them and sometimes even hold them while they are dialyzed.  

The team includes a child life specialist who also tries to distract the infants during dialysis; social workers who support the families, including coordinating transportation and ensuring families keep their appointments; a dietician to help with nutrition and ensure proper growth; and a pharmacist to help with medications. “We all work as a team to make this happen,” Dr. Fathallah-Shayk said, “otherwise we couldn’t do it.”  

And, said White, “we have a good support system from the administration on down,” which helps avoid burnout. The unit also added more staff in anticipation of continued growth. “We are trying to coordinate their care to the best of our ability, troubleshoot and really communicate and work with each other,” she said. 

Inside Pediatrics, Nephrology

Welcoming the new PRISMAX Dialysis Machines to the PICU & CVICU

When you’re talking about continuous dialysis and plasmapheresis for sick kids, you want state-of-the-art technology. And that’s just what Children’s of Alabama got this year when hospital administrators approved a significant investment in the newest generation of the PRISMAX system for the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology (PICAN).  

The PICAN team is no stranger to these therapies; after all, the team has provided them for more than 500 children for over 10,000 days since 2013 in the pediatric, neonatal and cardiac intensive care units. In 2020, the newest PRISMAX became available, and Children’s became the first hospital in the state and one of the first children’s hospitals in the country to receive the new machines, said David Askenazi, M.D., who directs the PICAN. “We are very grateful to the hospital for making this available to us and our patients,” he said. “We know that patients will benefit.” 

But first, everyone had to be trained to use the new machines. While it sounds like replacing the old with the new should be a relatively simple switch, the staff required intense education. 

“The educational part of the rollout was very important,” said acute dialysis coordinator Daryl Ingram, RN, BSN, CDN. “We had to make sure the nurses and physicians were comfortable with them before they started using them on patients.” He was pleasantly surprised at how the entire team embraced the new technology and the groundbreaking opportunity the new machines offered, he said. 

One reason could be the improvements the new system brought. For instance, nurses no longer have to manually empty 5-liter effluent bags. “It definitely saves time,” said Suzanne Gurosky, RN, ECP, the dialysis charge nurse. She also touted the battery backup in the machines, which enables patients to ambulate and even do physical therapy while still connected. Another plus is the ability of the machines to decipher the cause for an alarm—because someone moved or jostled the fluids, or because there was a real issue going on. That helps avoid disruptive alarms and alarm fatigue. 

It does this through artificial intelligence, “so it understands what’s happening better than it used to,” said Dr. Askenazi.  

The new PRISMAX also sports improved safety features, such as correcting itself for fluid removal. In addition, it provides extensive data that can be integrated into the department’s quality-improvement initiatives. “We’re excited to dig into that information and incorporate it into our practice,” said Dr. Askenazi.  

After the training and the successful integration of the new PRISMAX machines into the unit, there was one more thing the team needed to do: name them. “We like to name our machines to help the kids feel more comfortable,” said Ingram. The winners were Rosie, Max, and Astro from the old “The Jetsons” cartoon, Johnny 5 from the movie “Short Circuit,” and C3PO from, of course, “Star Wars.”