Belding Scribner

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 17 July 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:167

The inventor of shunt dialysis

Belding H Scribner invented a device credited with saving the lives of over one million patients with kidney failure worldwide. Although his work was laughed at initially, it was his invention's extraordinary success that sparked an ethical dilemma of epic proportion.

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Scribner came upon his idea in 1960 after he saw a young man recover briefly following dialysis, only to die a few weeks later. At the time, haemodialysis could only be performed for a few cycles. In a painful procedure, glass tubes were inserted into a patient's blood vessels, permanently destroying them for further access.

The patient weighed on Scribner's mind until one night when he suddenly awoke with an idea of how to save patients with end stage kidney disease. He would fashion a loop between an artery and vein, allowing the device—rather than the patient's own vessels—to be opened and closed with each cycle of dialysis.

He enlisted instrument designer …

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