Kidneys are the most in demand organs throughout the country with more than 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list. The tragedy, says a West Lafayette-based startup, is that nearly 30% of the 20,000 kidneys recovered for transplant each year are discarded before they reach the recipient. Renovera, which recently opened space at the Purdue Research Park, is developing technology it says could rescue the vast majority of discarded kidneys and recondition them for transplant. Laser focused on its mission to save thousands of lives, and boosted by Purdue’s aviation might, Renovera says the technology is nearly ready for takeoff.
Renovera founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Jaynes is confident the startup’s technology could recondition 80% of the kidneys that are deemed unusable, and his word carries weight in the world of transplantation; Jaynes created the technology currently used in the U.S. to rehabilitate donor lungs.
While kidneys are discarded for a variety of reasons, Jaynes says they often hinge on a single element: time. The current U.S. standard requires that kidneys are out of the body no longer than 20 hours to be viable for transplant. But the “very big dance of logistics and coordination to get everything together in that 20 hours” is frequently interrupted, he says. Still transported in igloo coolers on ice, kidneys are often flown to the recipient hospital on commercial airlines, and flights are delayed or missed, or the surgeon or recipient may not be able to get to the hospital before the 20-hour limit expires. The organ isn’t discarded because it “was a bad kidney,” says Jaynes, “it just had a bad trip.”
“If you had more time, then this organ would get placed,” says Renovera Chief Commercial Officer Kathleen St. Jean. “These kidneys were good, healthy kidneys that were going to be transplanted, but never made it, because they lost time.”
Renovera says its technology resets the clock for kidneys. Jaynes says kidneys deemed unusable would be brought to one of its facilities instead, the first of which is at the Purdue Research Park, where they’re connected to a machine that reconditions the organs.
“It’s basically like life support. It’s a machine that allows us to bring the kidney back up to normal body temperature, and we can measure it and see if it actually still is working; if it’s able to produce urine, if it can manage electrolytes. We give it some oxygen and feed it; we give it things like glucose, vitamins and minerals—nutrition that it needs, so it can basically recharge itself,” says Jaynes. “We believe about 80% of the time, we can get these kidneys to the point where we reset the clock on them, and they can be put on ice again for another 20 hours to get to the transplant hospital and be transplanted successfully. We’re basically giving the kidney more time.”
Renovera means “recondition” in Swedish, a nod to where the discoveries were made in the late 90s that organs could be restored to a healthy state “ex vivo,” or outside the body. Jaynes developed the devices and process for ex vivo organ repair, focused on donor lungs, while working for a company in Sweden; the technology has since been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is regularly used in the U.S. for lungs. Jaynes says, while the technology for kidneys has been reported by U.S. researchers at academic centers, it’s further along in Europe, where it has regulatory approval and is being used clinically for transplant.
Renovera became a reality when Jaynes won a KidneyX Award in 2020 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for developing the hardware and processes to execute the startup’s mission of reconditioning kidneys. The new wet lab at the Purdue Research Park will be equipped for tasks involving pathology, biopsies and MRI imaging to fully validate the technology. Jaynes says navigating the regulatory approval process to bring the technology from Europe to the U.S. is part of Renovera’s “secret sauce,” and the team will “add some of our own things from our past experiences, so we can make these kidneys even better.”
A critical piece of Renovera’s business plan is Purdue’s aviation legacy—a major factor that enabled Purdue to trump other U.S. locations. The startup is building a large clinical lab at the Purdue University Airport and will occupy hangars on the property, and eventually, have its own airplanes.
“We’ll fly organs right into our facility [at the airport] to try to keep down the number of hours of how old the kidneys are,” says Jaynes. “The quicker we can bring organs into the facility, get them connected to the machinery and start feeding them, the better our chances are of rehabilitating them.”
“Time is ticking on these organs; we need to not be at the mercy of somebody else to make sure that kidney gets to us,” says St. Jean. “If we can solve that transportation piece on our own, we can get that kidney from A to B and on to the recipient without having to worry about anybody else.”
Renovera believes it’s just a few months away from finalizing and validating its kidney reconditioning system, and Jaynes believes it could be optimizing kidneys for transplant soon after.
“People who need transplants are all ages—kids to grandparents,” says Jaynes. “We’re going to be able to increase the number of lives saved through this process and have a big impact on the families of the people waiting too.”
“The thing that keeps me up at night is…we’re losing all of these organs that aren’t getting to recipients. How do we solve for these patients…so that nobody can say, ‘My time ran out,’” says St. Jean. “In my mind, the clock is ticking. I don’t want that clock to stop. We’re highly motivated to figure this out and make sure we get it right.”
Jaynes says Renovera is navigating the regulatory approval process now, which is part of the startup’s competitive edge.
St. Jean says the desperate need for kidneys, Jaynes’ experience and Purdue’s strengths in aviation create the perfect recipe for Renovera’s vision.