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William H. Fissell, IV

Associate Faculty of Nephrology and Hypertension


My contribution to nephrology and medicine is the skilled application of engineering tools and insights to unmet medical needs, resulting in unconventional approaches and novel insights.

Novel membrane technology
My undergraduate training in physics and engineering brought me experience in nanotechnology through my work on NASA’s Chandra Observatory and its X-ray spectrometers. While in medicine residency, I noticed the similarity between the slit-shaped structures of Chandra’s diffraction gratings and the slit diaphragm of the glomerular podocyte. This led to the hypothesis that a membrane of uniform, slit-shaped pores might have advantages over conventional polymer membranes. To pursue this hypothesis, I trained with H. David Humes, M.D. at University of Michigan, and my early publications reflect work on Dr. Humes’ large-scale bioartificial kidney. The opportunity to pursue novel membrane technologies emerged with my K08 career development award from the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. In partnership with Shuvo Roy, PhD, we demonstrated that changing the underlying technology of hemofiltration membranes improved permeability and selectivity of the membranes. This led to The Kidney Project, a multidisplinary effort to engineer an implantable artificial kidney based on this novel membrane technology and bioreactors of living cells.