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Inventor of kidney dialysis speaks at Russ College lecture series

Click to view videoATHENS, Ohio -- A giant in medicine and engineering visited Ohio University Monday (Oct. 13) to speak about his many medical inventions that have saved millions of lives all over the world.

Dr. Willem Kolff, inventor of kidney dialysis and other medical devices and winner of the 2003 Russ Prize, spoke in Irvine Auditorium as part of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology's Stocker Lecture Series. Presenting different versions of his many inventions, Kolff, 93, discussed just how significant artificial organs are in medicine today.

"[The public] does not generally recognize that artificial organs are now a multi-billion-dollar business," Kolff said. But as use of artificial organs continues to grow and advance in medicine, the public will grow more aware of the benefits of Kolff's inventions.

Willem Kolff spoke to Robe Leadership Institute members during his visit. Photo by Rick FaticaKolff developed the first kidney dialysis machine during World War II in Nazi-occupied Holland. Driven by his observations of a young man suffering kidney failure -- his body losing all ability to filter out waste -- Kolff engineered his first device out of sausage casings and part of an automobile water pump.

"Because we have two kidneys, doctors still place emphasis on transplantation rather than dialysis," Kolff said. But today, at least 1.2 million people are alive because of kidney dialysis.

Also included in Kolff's extensive list of medical developments are the heart-lung machine, the intra-aortic balloon pump heart assist device, the artificial heart and the artificial eye.

"I am very interested in artificial vision," Kolff said. "Its future is enormous."

Kolff began studies and experimentation with artificial vision in the late 1960s. Through stimulating the part of the cortex that controls sight, his early patients were able to see dots of light.

"I'll never forget it," Kolff said. "It was a very emotional moment when a man who had been blind for years saw a spot of light."

Wilem Kolff demonstrates how to make a polyurethane vacuum mold. Photo by Rick FaticaKolff currently lives in Newton Square, Pa., working on the small details of his most recent invention -- the wearable lung.

As winner of the 2003 Russ Prize, one of the top three engineering prizes in the world, Kolff was recognized for his outstanding achievement in the engineering field, contributing to the advancement of science and engineering and improving the quality of life.

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Media Contact: Russ College of Engineering and Technology Director of External Relations Colleen Girton, (740) 593-1488 or girtonc@ohio.edu

 
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