Center Develops Novel X-ray Diagnosis of Kidney Stones

Although kidney stones can go unnoticed for a long time, for many people they cause discomfort at some point in their lives. More than 5% of the population suffer from these multifaceted crystals. The most suitable therapy for this widespread disease depends on the stones' shapes and chemical composition. "Sometimes, however, the type of stone can only be identified once it has been removed by surgery," explains Robert Zboray from Empa's Center for X-ray Analytics.

An operation is not always necessary, though. In some cases, a far more cost-effective change in eating and drinking habits is sufficient. Empa researchers are developing a new diagnostic procedure based on advanced X-ray technologies to ensure that the right treatment – i.e. one that is tailored to each individual patient – is being applied. The new project has recently received support of the Maiores Foundation in Liechtenstein and a second foundation.

Zboray and his team are looking for biomedical imaging methods that can be used to determine the content, shape and position of kidney stones precisely, cost-effectively and painlessly. Dark-field X-ray imaging is particularly suitable for this. This innovative, multimodal technology uses scattered radiation, which is produced by the interaction of X-rays and kidney stones, on the one hand, and direct radiation, which simultaneously produces a conventional X-ray image, on the other. The combination of the two types of images enables a particularly sensitive determination of the composition of the stone. This even makes it possible to visualize nearly transparent objects as well as fine details of the microstructure. "Our goal is to be able to convert standard X-ray machines in GP offices and hospitals to the new dark-field technology as cost-effectively as possible," says the Empa researcher.

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