"The process of kidney stone formation is part of the natural process of the stone formation seen throughout nature," Illinois geology professor Bruce Fouke said. "We are bringing together geology, biology and medicine to map the entire process of kidney stone formation, step by step. With this road map in hand, more effective and targeted clinical interventions and therapies can now be developed."
In the new work, the research team - brought together by the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance for Technology-Based Healthcare - describes in detail the multiple phases kidney stones go through in forming, dissolving and re-forming, documented through high-resolution imaging technologies. The findings defy the typical classification schemes doctors use, which are based on bulk analyses of the type of mineral and the presumed location of formation in the kidney. Instead, the researchers developed a new classification scheme based on which phase of formation the stone is in and which chemical processes it is undergoing.
One particularly revelatory finding was in the very beginnings of kidney stone formation: Stones start as microspherules, or tiny droplets of mineral, which merge to form larger crystals throughout kidney tissues. Normally they are flushed out, but when they coalesce together to form larger stones that continue to grow, they can become excruciatingly painful and even deadly in some cases, Fouke said.
"Stone formation is part of a natural, healthy process within kidneys where these tiny mineral deposits are shuttled away and excreted from the body," Fouke said. "But then there is a tipping point when those same mineral deposits start to grow together too rapidly and are physically unable to leave the kidney."
As the stone goes through the formation process, more microspherules merge, lose their rounded shape and transform into much larger, perfectly geometric crystals. Stones go through multiple cycles of partially dissolving and then growing again, creating a signature pattern of layered crystals much like those of agates, coral skeletons and hot-spring deposits seen around the world.
The study authors outlined several possible clinical interventions and treatment targets based on this expanded knowledge of kidney stone formation. They hope that researchers and clinicians can explore and test these options, from drug targets to changes in diet or supplements that could disrupt the chemical and biological cascade driving kidney stone formation, Sivaguru said.
To aid in this testing, Fouke's group developed the GeoBioCell, a microfluidic cartridge designed to mimic the intricate internal structures of the kidney. The group hopes the device can accelerate not only research, but also clinical diagnostic testing and the evaluation of potential therapies, especially for the more than 70% of kidney stone patients with recurring stones.
"Ultimately, our vision is that every operating room would have a small geology lab attached. In that lab, you could do a very rapid diagnostic on a stone or stone fragment in a matter of minutes, and have informed and individualized treatment targets," Fouke said.
MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: niversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau