Computer modelling helps dissolve the mystery of kidney stones

July 5, 2017

Murdoch researchers have developed a new computer system that predicts kidney stones

Murdoch University researchers have developed computer modelling to help prevent kidney stones, a significant and painful human health problem.

Developed by Dr Michael Hill, Dr Erich Königsberger and Emeritus Professor Peter May from the Murdoch School of Engineering and Information Technology, the new modelling predicts the biochemical conditions that lead to the formation of kidney stones.

Mostly small, hard deposits of calcium oxalate or phosphate, which form in the kidneys, kidney stones are usually agonising when passed through the urinary system.

One of the most common disorders of the urinary tract, kidney stones affect between four and eight per cent of Australians at some time in their lives.

Despite much research, the processes involved in development of kidney stones remain poorly understood and reliable procedures for preventing their formation have yet to be developed.

Dr Hill said a delicate biological balance was required in the human body to prevent the formation of solid structures such as unwanted, harmful kidney stones while in other places producing solid tissue required for healthy bones and teeth.

“Understanding kidney stone formation involves the investigation of mineral formation in a complex environment, where the changes that are taking place are often very difficult to observe directly,” said Dr Hill.

“We looked at recent research advances, which indicated some key steps in kidney stone formation. We then developed modelling capabilities to help us calculate mineral solubilities and provide insight into the processes involved.

Dr Hill said that adjusting urine pH and diluting urine by increasing fluid intake were the two measures currently taken to prevent or treat kidney stones.

“The new model could eventually lead to improved treatment by predicting specific chemical factors that are likely to influence stone formation,” he said.

“This would then require the expected effects to be confirmed outside of the human body in laboratory tests.

“But the real challenge will be developing a treatment that can make a difference inside the kidneys – a very complex and difficult to reach environment. If this is achievable then the impact on kidney stone sufferers could be great.

“Much more research on the processes inside the kidney are required before we can reach this stage.”

Dr Hill has a background in computer science combined with research experience in the medical application of computer technology.

His current project involves an interdisciplinary research group with expertise in measuring and modelling the properties of industrial, environmental and biological solutions and interactions with minerals.

The study, Mineral precipitation and dissolution in the kidney, has been published in American Mineralogist and can be viewed here.

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