Irish engineer wins major prize for kidney dialysis design

Low-cost machine has the potential to save millions of lives in the developing world

An Irish engineer has won a major international prize after designing a low-cost kidney dialysis machine.

Smaller than a suitcase and geared for use in the developing world, the machine has the potential to save millions of lives in countries where conventional kidney treatments are either too expensive or difficult to access.

The engineer, Vincent Garvey, is originally from Donaghpatrick, Co Meath, but has spent the past 15 years in China, where he runs engineering consultancy firm MD Devices.

The goal of the Affordable Dialysis Prize 2016 was to design a portable dialysis machine costing about €900 for use in places where there was no assured electricity supply or clean water.


Conventional dialysis machines typically cost between €18,000 and €27,000.

Mr Garvey took up the challenge with a design that could be used anywhere, with solar power used to produce the sterile water needed to help clear the body of life-threatening toxins.

He scooped the prize, worth €91,000, after a unanimous decision by the international panel of judges.

His win was announced on Thursday, which was World Kidney Day.

Mr Garvey said it was “incredible” to win the prize.

There were millions of people worldwide who don’t have access to dialysis “and currently suffer pretty awful deaths”, he said.

“Vincent has been inventing things his whole life,” said his sister Maria, who lives in Dublin.

“The family is very proud and delighted for him.”

Mr Garvey had just retired from full-time work and was visiting family in Australia when he heard about the dialysis prize.

“I worked on the design last year in Australia. It was much more fun than trying to be a retiree,” he said.

“It looked like it would make a huge contribution if it worked.”

He is now developing the system to bring the design into use.


A Melbourne company is making and testing prototypes and he is looking for a firm to manufacture the machine.

It may be possible to test the system on animals within 12 months and on humans in about three years, he said.

A study published by The Lancet found more than nine million people needed access to dialysis for terminal kidney failure worldwide, but only 2.6 million received this life-saving treatment.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.