Kolff-Brigham Artificial Kidney

Kolff-Brigham Artificial Kidney

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Physician Willem J. Kolff (1911-2009) known as the “Father of Artificial Organs” invented the first workable artificial kidney and was a pioneer in the field of artificial internal organs. As a young doctor practicing in Groningen, The Netherlands under Nazi occupation Kolff built a rotating drum artificial kidney out of scraps of metal, wood and sausage casing. After fifteen unsuccessful attempts to filter urea from patients whose kidneys could not process wastes, his sixteenth patient pulled through. The artificial kidney seen here is a second generation artificial kidney known as the Kolff-Brigham Artificial Kidney
In 1950 Kolff, his wife and children immigrated to the United States. Kolff spent the next seventeen years in the at the Cleveland Clinic working mostly on artificial kidneys and hearts. Kolff and Dr. Tet Akutsu successfully implanted an artificial heart in a dog in 1957.
In 1967, Kolff moved to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City where he established a Biomedical Engineering laboratory for artificial organs. The Jarvik-7 Total Artificial Heart was developed in his laboratory, and in 1982, Barney Clark a retired dentist was implanted with the first permanent artificial heart. In 2002 Kolff received the Lasker award for his work with artificial kidneys.
The Kolff-Brigham artificial kidney consists of a cylindrical metal mesh drum, the top portion of which is covered by a second half drum of clear plastic with a handle in the front. Two silver colored, adjustable metal lighting fixtures are attached to the back of the plastic cover. A rectangular metal basin sits below the drum. The drum is supported by a metal frame that rests on four black rubber wheels. There is a control panel on the front left side with a round, clear plastic knob next to four ON/OFF switches (two brown, two white) at the top. Two vertically aligned, dome shaped lights (one red, one clear) are centered on the control panel next to a directional control button. There are three black switches on the lower right of the control panel. On the reverse side of the control panel there are two black electrical outlets. A length of plastic tubing is attached to the right rear light fixture.
Currently not on view
Object Name
artificial kidney machine
artificial kidney
date made
ca 1949
Edward A. Olson Co.
place made
United States: Massachusetts, Boston
Physical Description
steel (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
rubber (overall material)
overall: 156.5 cm x 75 cm x 114 cm; 61 5/8 in x 29 17/32 in x 44 7/8 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
John P. Merrill, M.D.
Artificial Organs
Kidney dialysis
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Health & Medicine
Artificial Hearts
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Please note that this prototype was made at Peter Bent Brigham in late 40s. This machine was redesigned and put to use by Drs. John P. Merrill (nephrologist), Carl Walter (Surgeon), and Edward Olsen (Engineer).

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