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Outside the Lab Point of care testing, Digital and computational pathology, Biochemistry and molecular biology, Clinical care

Nanoparticle Nephrology

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is estimated to affect 8 to 16 percent of the world’s population (1). In the United Kingdom alone, it’s suggested that there may be over 1 million people who suffer from undiagnosed CKD (2) and who, as long as their disease goes unrecognized, will continue to miss opportunities to improve their health outcomes. The factors underlying this lack of diagnosis are multifaceted, but in areas where testing is lacking or difficult to access, the engineers at Bio Nano Consulting (London, UK) think they have a solution.

They’ve developed a medical device, which combines nanotechnology with a pregnancy tester (see photograph). The quantitative electrochemical lateral flow assay (QELFA) uses nanoparticles to test the protein content of a patient’s urine and delivers quantitative results in seconds via a digital readout on the handheld device. Doctors can even link it to the computers in their surgery via mobile technology, allowing them to track a patient’s disease progress over time without requiring repeated clinic appointments. The QELFA device is still in the early stages of development, but results so far have been so accurate that a patient trial program is currently being designed, and the developers hope to have the final product available within the next five years.

Helen Meese, head of materials at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says that the drive to develop kidney disease technology is “to provide simple-to-use, yet accurate medical tools that will not only aid in the diagnosis of disease, but enable the patient to be engaged in their treatment in a straightforward way using recognizable technology.” She hopes that simplifying the diagnosis and monitoring process for patients will reduce the mental and physical stress of dealing with illness. It will be helpful for doctors, too – at the moment, there is no device physicians can use for day-to-day monitoring of kidney disease. Increasing their ability to receive rapid updates on their patients’ conditions will improve care in both ongoing chronic disease and acute kidney failure.

Meese anticipates that rapid, low-cost tests like this could save the UK’s National Health Service millions of pounds for a disease with a current cost burden of over £1.4 billion (3). They anticipate that the test will cost around £10. It’s not just the cost of the test that is reduced with devices like QELFA, but the need for late-stage or emergency treatment of kidney disease sufferers. Meese also doesn’t think that the QELFA device’s potential is limited to kidney-related conditions. “With the increasing number of people requiring diagnosis of different types of disease, point-of-care tests such as these will become more commonplace and increasingly useful in helping pathologists, urologists and general practitioners to provide more personalized health care.”

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  1. V Jha, et al., “Chronic kidney disease: global dimension and perspectives”, Lancet, 382, 260–272 (2013). PMID: 23727169.
  2. Kidney Health, “Kidney Health: Delivering Excellence”, (2013). Available at: bit.ly/1yylybF. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  3. M Kerr, et al., “Estimating the financial cost of chronic kidney disease to the NHS in England”, Nephrol Dial Transplant, Suppl 3, iii73–iii80. PMID: 22815543.
About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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