Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have made a significant discovery suggesting that 3D eye scans may revolutionize the monitoring of kidney health. The study, funded by Kidney Research UK and supported by Edinburgh Innovations, indicates that highly magnified retina images captured through optical coherence tomography (OCT) can provide crucial insights into kidney function.

Chronic kidney disease:

Chronic kidney disease is notorious for its asymptomatic early stages, making timely detection challenging. Current screening tests often miss the condition until nearly half of the kidney function has been lost. However, the new 3D approach offers a non-invasive and swift method to monitor kidney health by analyzing changes in the retina.

The eye serves as a unique gateway to understanding microvascular circulation, a process often affected by kidney disease. Using OCT scanners similar to those found in high street opticians, researchers examined images from 204 patients at various stages of kidney disease, including transplant recipients, alongside 86 healthy volunteers.

Results revealed that patients with chronic kidney disease exhibited thinner retinas, and this thinning progressed as kidney function declined. Importantly, these changes were reversible after a successful kidney transplant, with patients experiencing a rapid thickening of their retinas post-surgery.

Given the rising prevalence of kidney disease, linked to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, the potential impact of this technology is significant. With further research, routine eye checks could become a valuable tool for early detection and monitoring, enabling lifestyle changes to mitigate risks and prevent complications.

Supported by Heidelberg Engineering’s imaging platform, this technology not only has clinical applications but also holds promise for drug development. Monitoring changes in the retina could provide insights into how the kidney responds to potential new treatments, offering a multi-faceted approach to advancing kidney health care.

Detecting future kidney disease:

While the discovery of using 3D eye scans for monitoring kidney health is promising, the researchers caution that further studies are needed before the technology can be routinely used. Specifically, longer-term clinical trials involving larger patient groups are necessary to validate the findings and ensure the technology’s reliability and effectiveness in diverse populations.

Dr Neeraj (Bean) Dhaun, Professor of Nephrology at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science, stated: “We hope that this research, which shows that the eye is a useful window into the kidney, will help identify more people with early kidney disease – providing an opportunity to start treatments before it progresses.:

“It also offers potential for new clinical trials and the development of drug treatments for a chronic disease that, so far, has proved extremely difficult to treat.”

The potential benefits of this discovery are immense, especially considering the high prevalence of chronic kidney disease in the UK, with an estimated 7.2 million people affected. Chronic kidney disease poses a significant economic burden on the National Health Service (NHS), costing approximately £7 billion annually. If the technology proves successful in larger clinical trials, it could offer a transformative approach to early detection and monitoring, potentially leading to cost savings and improved patient outcomes in the management of chronic kidney disease.


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.

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