Fresenius, the global healthcare company, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012. The Fresenius Group offers products and services for dialysis, the hospital and the medical care of patients at home with its four business segments: Fresenius Medical Care, Fresenius Kabi, Fresenius Helios and Fresenius Vamed.
It all started with a German Pharmacy in 1912: Dr. Eduard Fresenius established in the laboratories of the “Hirsch Pharmacy” in Frankfurt the later “Fresenius” company.
This enduring history and the work of Dr. Eduard Fresenius reflect the entrepreneurial values that still shape Fresenius. Today Fresenius employs over 160,000 people worldwide in the four business segments, each of which is responsible for its own business operations.
Fresenius Medical Care – prospects of life for renal failure patients
Fresenius and dialysis
Based in Germany, Fresenius first came into contact with blood filters in the 1960s as a producer of dialysis solutions. At the time, dialysis was highly complex and expensive meaning that very few patients were able to access this life-saving therapy. When the company’s management learned from the newspapers about the desperate situation of most renal failure patients in Germany, they decided they must act. As a result, Fresenius started to import and distribute dialysis machines from the United States in the mid-1960’s.
Through the maintenance of these machines and their constant, ongoing exchange of ideas with the medical staff that operated them, Fresenius employees developed increasing technical knowledge about dialysis technology.
When the manufacturers in the United States decided to take over distribution themselves, Fresenius set up a medical technology task force and was involved in establishing more than 100 dialysis treatment units in medical facilities across Germany. This led to Fresenius developing its own dialysis machines in the 1970’s. A plant was opened in Schweinfurt, Germany for precisely this purpose and the serial production of the first Fresenius dialysis machine, the A 2008, began in 1979.
The first milestone – shorter dialysis times
Through their commitment to innovation, Fresenius developed the volumetrically-controlled ultrafiltration process. Prior to its development, the velocity of blood flow through the filter had been the same as the body’s normal blood flow meaning that dialysis took around 14 hours. The volumetrically-controlled ultrafiltration process allowed blood flow velocity to be increased in a controlled manner such that dialysis times were cut to less than half those previously required.
The second milestone – polysulfone
Inspired by this success, Fresenius technicians sought further improvements in dialysis technology. The Head of Research and Development at the time, Dr. Gerd Krick, recognised the need to optimise the quality of the blood filters, which were then made from cellulose. He came across polysulfone and reasoned that its porous structure and the specific chemical properties of the membrane would make it ideal for filtering blood during dialysis.
His engineer colleague Klaus Heilmann worked day and night to find the best formula for polysulfone and to develop nozzles that could be used to make fibres of this substance. He performed the first trial of the new material he had developed in 1982, thereby establishing that it dramatically improved filtering quality. Indeed, it became apparent that dialysers made with polysulfone were almost as effective as human kidneys and now they are the standard in dialysis.
The third milestone – helixone
After further research into blood filter materials, helixone (also made of the synthetic polysulfone) was introduced in 2000. Membranes made of this material are produced using a special type of nanotechnology that makes it possible to accurately alter the structure and distribution of pores in the material’s surface. This then allows the production of blood filter membranes to meet specific dialysis requirements and further improve filtering capacity.
A focus on patients – research continues
Employees at Fresenius Medical Care interact extensively with patients at our dialysis centres and so understand what a burden dialysis is for many patients with renal failure. Because of this, the company continues to develop new ideas for making this life-saving therapy as bearable as possible and further improve patients’ quality of life.
We always keep in mind the patients’ overall state of health and strive to improve it with integrated care programs. To name just one example of how we look beyond simply providing renal dialysis, we have developed a physical training regimen that allows patients to improve their fitness while connected to the dialysis machines.
A future direction that we are keen to pursue is making the heavy dialysis equipment and consumables small and light enough to be portable, thereby allowing patients to move freely during dialysis. While this is still a distant goal because 120–200 litres of water is currently needed for dialysis, there is hope that new cleansing technology may allow this to be reduced to 6–10 litres. Thus, we believe that portable ‘artificial kidneys’ are conceivable – and we are at the forefront of turning this dream into reality.
For more information about Fresenius and our 100 years history: www.fresenius100.com
Note to media: An electronic press kit with texts, images and audio and video footage related to this press release can be found at: www.fresenius.com/f100