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William Henry Fissell M.D.

Department: Medicine


In addition to Dr. Fissell’s clinical expertise in general nephrology, he has long had a particular interest in the delivery of care for patients with acute and chronic renal failure requiring dialysis therapy. His expertise has allowed him to find novel solutions to patient’s difficult dialysis problems.

Dr. Fissell’s research interests parallel his patient care interests. He is a biomedical engineer and physician who is developing an implantable artificial kidney to treat kidney failure. Over a half million people in the United States have permanent kidney failure. The best treatment for kidney failure is a kidney transplant. Due to a shortage of organs, only the very lucky few are able resume healthy lives with a transplant after kidney failure. The only other treatment available is dialysis. Although dialysis is lifesaving, it is laborious, time-consuming, and is associated with poorer survival than transplant. During his undergraduate years at M.I.T., Dr. Fissell worked in the laboratory of Claude R. Canizare developing spectroscopy instruments for NASA's Chandra Observatory. Dr. Fissell then spent several years working as an advanced life support paramedic for Cataldo Ambulance before returning to school at Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio. During his internal medicine residency, he made the fortuitous observation that the filtration structures in the healthy kidney resembled the Chandra HETG on which he had worked as an undergraduate. This stimulated the idea that silicon nanotechnology might be an enabling technology for organ replacement.

Dr. Fissell was very fortunate to develop partnerships with Dr. H. David Humes at University of Michigan and Dr. Shuvo Roy, now at UCSF. Dr. Roy and Dr. Fissell now co-direct The Kidney Project, a multiyear NIH-funded project to create the first implantable artificial kidney.

Dr. Fissell is now Associate Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University, where he directs research in artificial organs, tissue engineering, pharmacokinetics, and dialysis in acute kidney injury.

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