Nature-inspired kidney stone test returns results in 30 minutes

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University are reporting a breakthrough that could greatly improve on methods to detect kidney stones, demonstrating a novel type of urine test that can return results in just 30 minutes. This not only promises a much shorter turnaround time than the seven to 10 days required of today’s tests, but could also make the process far cheaper and more widely accessible, therefore opening up effective new ways to detect and manage the condition.

Kidney stones form as a result of salt and mineral buildup in the organ, which then make their way into the urinary tract to cause all sorts of discomfort for the patient. Testing urine for particular metabolites that give rise to these dangerous clumps is one of the ways clinicians can catch and prevent them from forming, but this process is expensive and time-consuming.

First, the patient must collect their urine over a 24-hour period, which is then sent off to a lab for analysis. This requires expensive equipment to test the sample for solutes and minerals, and typically takes seven to 10 days before results are returned.

In pursuit of a more efficient solution, the team has taken inspiration from nepenthes pitcher plants. These carnivorous plants feature leaves shaped like pitchers, which entrap insects with the help of slippery rims that see them topple into the pools of digestive liquid inside.

“There are many aspects we can learn from nature and our environment, and our research is an example how biomedical engineers can make good use of it,” says Pak Kin Wong, professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State and leader of the research team.

The team has dubbed its nature-inspired device the slippery liquid-infused porous surface (SLIPS)-LAB. It consists of a smooth, low-friction surface and specially crafted geometry that enables urine droplets to glide over the top and combine with reactants at just the right timed rate to trigger the necessary chemical reactions.

“We demonstrated that SLIPS-LAB enables the reagent and sample to move themselves and perform the reactions for us,” Wong says. “It means the technology doesn’t require a technician to run any test machinery, so it is possible to do the test in non-traditional settings, like a physician’s office or even the patient’s home.”

The test results from the SLIPS-LAB technology can be read using a smartphone or a scanner with the help of a computer algorithm. According to the team, the analysis would take approximately 30 minutes in a doctor’s office. And in doing away with the need for expensive lab equipment, the costs as well as the time needed for this kind of urine testing could be greatly reduced.

“The low cost, rapidity and simplicity of SLIPS-LAB would reduce the barrier for the clinician and patient to undergo stone risk metabolite analysis,” Wong says. “This would improve the management of patients with urinary stone disease and open new possibilities for stone patients to test their urine samples in mobile health settings.”

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Source: Pennsylvania State University

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