Treatment with bioartificial kidneys had beneficial effects in animal experiments and improved survival of critically ill patients with acute kidney injury in a Phase II clinical trial. However, a Phase II b clinical trial failed. This and other results suggested various problems with the current design of bioartificial kidneys. We propose a novel design to improve various properties of device, including haemocompatibility and cell performance. An important feature of the novel design is confinement of the blood to the lumina of the hollow fibre membranes. This avoids exposure of the blood to the non-haemocompatible outer surfaces of hollow fibre membranes, which usually occurs in bioartificial kidneys. We use these outer surfaces as substrate for cell growth. Our results show that commercial hollow fibre membranes can be directly applied in the bioreactor when human primary renal proximal tubular cells are grown in this configuration, and no coatings are required for the formation of robust and functional renal epithelia. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the bioreactor unit produces significant amounts of interleukins. This result helps to understand the immunomodulatory effects of bioartificial kidneys, which have been observed previously. The novel bioartificial kidney design outlined here and the results obtained would be expected to improve the safety and performance of bioartificial kidneys and to contribute to a better understanding of their effects.