Kidney Stones Have Geological Histories

Sunday, September 16, 2018 - 12:37

Researchers from University of Illinois have reported in the journal Scientific Reports that kidney stones are built up in calcium-rich layers that resemble other mineralization in nature, such as those forming coral reefs or arising in hot springs, Roman aqueducts or subsurface oil fields.

Most importantly for human health, the researchers found, kidney stones partially dissolve and regrow again and again as they form, Illinois reports.

This contradicts the widely held notion that kidney stones are homogenous rocks that never dissolve and are different from all other rocks in nature, said University of Illinois geology and microbiology professor Bruce Fouke, who led the new research with Jessica Saw, an M.D. student at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Ph.D. student at the U. of I.; and Mayandi Sivaguru, an associate director of the Carl Zeiss Laboratories@Location at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I.

“Contrary to what doctors learn in their medical training, we found that kidney stones undergo a dynamic process of growing and dissolving, growing and dissolving,” Fouke said. “This means that one day we may be able to intervene to fully dissolve the stones right in the patient’s kidney, something most doctors today would say is impossible.

The findings were the result of looking at kidney stones much more closely and with a broader array of light and electron microscopy techniques than others had employed before, said Sivaguru, the lead author of the study who led the microscopy work. The methods included bright-field, phase-contrast, polarization, confocal, fluorescence and electron microscopy, with newly invented combinations of these tools and X-ray spectroscopy.

The effort resulted in spectacularly clear, colorful images of the interior growth history of the kidney stones, revealing that they are built up in alternating thin layers of organic matter and crystals, interrupted in places with jutting interior crystals.

“In geology, when you see layers that means something older is underneath something younger” he said. “One layer may be deposited over the course of very short to very long periods of time.”

“Before this study, it was thought that a kidney stone is just a simple crystal that gets bigger over time,” she said. “What we’re seeing here is that it’s dynamic. The stone is growing and dissolving, growing and dissolving. It’s very rich with many components. It’s very much alive.”

Fouke, Saw and Sivaguru are affiliates of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Saw is pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular and integrative physiology at Illinois.

The Mayo Clinic and University of Illinois Strategic Alliance for Technology-Based Healthcare, the Mayo Clinic O’Brien Urology Research Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Astrobiology Institute supported this research.

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