Minority Report-style detection of kidney failure soon to become reality

30 September 2010

Scientists have discovered an easy way of detecting whether someone is likely to suffer from kidney failure or bone disease through a lack of vitamin D, according to research published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Researchers at the University of Utah developed a nano-technology based test to detect vitamin D metabolite calcitriol, the deficiency of which is an indicator of kidney failure. The research echoes the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, where potential criminals are apprehended prior to committing a crime.

Sunlight and our diet are the main sources of vitamin D, which has an important part on our body's health as it regulates phosphate and calcium levels. Finding a balance is important as too much or too little can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer or kidney failure. Experts believe  bone diseases linked to vitamin D deficiency is increasing particularly in people with low sun exposure, suggesting those covering up from the sun could actually be at increased risk from disease.

Vitamin D's main job is to maintain blood calcium by increasing calcium absorption from the gut whilst decreasing loss from the kidneys. The news, published in the latest edition of the RSC journal Analyst, will be welcomed by everyone approaching retirement age considering one man in every five and one woman in four between the ages of 65 and 74 have some degree of chronic kidney disease.

Current methods of testing vitamin D levels need large amounts of serum sample and produce radioactive waste, while also being complex. The American researchers have developed a test based on surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) combined with gold nanoparticles. The new technique requires a much smaller sample and has no radioactive waste. 

Marc Porter, who helped develop the test, said: "Our work demonstrates that a simple optical method, when combined with gold nanoparticle labels, can outperform the standard methods heavily used in clinical diagnostic laboratories around the world." 

"This paper is a very nice example of the use of SERS for the detection of metabolites in clinically relevant samples," said Karen Faulds, at the Centre of Molecular Nanometrology in Strathclyde, UK. Faulds was impressed with the use of SERS for clinical diagnostics. "This breakthrough using a SERS based competitive assay holds great promise for the future," she added.


Competitive surface-enhanced Raman scattering assay for the 1,25-dihydroxy metabolite of vitamin D3
Eric J. Dufek, Brian Ehlert, Michael C. Granger, Tanya M. Sandrock, Samuel L. Legge, Mark G. Herrmann, A. Wayne Meikle and Marc D. Porter, Analyst, 2010
DOI: 10.1039/c0an00354a

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