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New 3D technique from KTH makes kidney disease diagnosis simpler and more accurate

KTH researchers have developed a unique technique to diagnose kidney diseases. Advanced sample preparation and three-dimensional microscopy enable diagnoses to be made earlier and more accurately.

In Sweden, more than half a million people have to live with chronic kidney disease. A further 300,000-400,000 people are significantly affected by kidney problems and chronic kidney diseases are increasing all over the world. In many countries, up to 15% of the population suffers from chronic kidney problems. These problems are increasing as our lifespan increases and diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure become more common.

Today, a kidney disease is diagnosed with the help of a biopsy (a sample of tissue from the kidney). The sample is examined through a combination of electron microscopy and ordinary microscopy. A sample may require up to four different types of preparation before it can be examined by an experienced specialist doctor.

Researchers at KTH have now developed a unique method for advanced sampling and 3D microscopy. With their method, just one preparation is needed to provide a super-high-resolution image that can be examined in three dimensions. In addition, the technique makes it possible to zoom in so close that individual molecules in the sample can be seen. That is impossible with the methods currently in use.

Visible to the naked eye

The new technique makes it possible to visualise a range of diseases optically before they have given rise to symptoms or can be seen in urine or blood tests. In other words, the diseases are visible to the naked eye as abnormalities in the tissue of the kidney. The next step could be that even better diagnoses can be made using artificial intelligence.

The technique is currently being evaluated for use in clinical research at both Karolinska University Hospital and Nephrolab, University of Cologne. The next step is to introduce and validate the technology for 3D diagnoses in healthcare.

Key persons

Hjalmar Brismar, Professor at the Department of Applied Physics at KTH, who has been conducting world-leading research on the kidney since the 1990s.

Hans Blom, Facility Head of the national bioscience hub for advanced microscopy SciLifeLab, who has worked with Nobel Prize winner Stefan Hell on the development of the STED technique.

KTH's initiative

Our goal is to introduce new and more advanced methods for diagnosing kidney disease. The method of sample preparation that we have developed makes use of the progress made in research in recent years where parts of tissue are made transparent in order to show the cells that control the kidneys’ filtering function. Using the Nobel Prize-winning technique of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy (STED), each sample can then be examined at molecular level. This enables specialist doctors to make better and faster diagnoses than is currently possible. In addition, this technique will allow artificial intelligence to be used for diagnosis in the future.

Why KTH?

Since the mid-1990s, researchers at KTH have been conducting world-leading research on the human kidney and kidney disease. Researchers at SciLifeLab have access to the unique STED technique which makes it possible to study tissue samples at nanometre level. The STED super-microscope was developed by Nobel Prize winner Stefan Hell, who has collaborated closely with KTH since 1995. Researchers from KTH have participated in the further development of the STED technique at Hell's own research lab.

How will we achieve our goals?

The technology for advanced sample preparation and three-dimensional microscopy has already been developed and validated for clinical research. Our goal now is to introduce this at one of Sweden’s largest hospitals for validation for the healthcare service. For this, funding is needed so a doctoral student can introduce the technique to clinics and share this new knowledge with specialist doctors. This project is expected to take three years and will have a major impact on the future diagnosis of kidney disease all over the world.

Page responsible:Sofia Tatsis
Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Jul 02, 2020