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The eye – a window to the kidney?

02 June 2021

With our funding, Dr Neeraj (Bean) Dhaun and his team at the University of Edinburgh will discover if the eye can be used as a window to diagnose and monitor kidney disease.

An Asian man, earing a white shirt with a stethoscope
Professor Neeraj Dhaun

Detecting kidney disease early

The most common way to detect kidney disease is to measure the levels of a waste product called creatinine in the blood. But creatinine levels only become abnormal when over 50% of kidney function has already been lost. We urgently need new ways to diagnose kidney disease early so people can receive the treatment they need sooner.

Bean and his team have discovered that people with kidney disease have thinner layers at the back of the eye — the choroid and the retina — and this thinning relates to the amount of kidney damage. Using a new imaging technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT), the team will work out if the eye can be used to measure and diagnose kidney disease.

Optical coherence tomography imaging technology
Optical coherence tomography imaging technology

How accurately do eye measurements reflect kidney health?

Thanks to our project grant of £197,629 awarded in partnership with The Stoneygate Trust, the team will perform OCT scans on a group of patients with chronic kidney disease over a period of five years to investigate whether OCT measurements are linked to the outlook for patients. The team will also investigate if the rapid kidney function improvements seen in patients with chronic kidney disease who receive a transplant, and kidney function loss in those who donate a kidney, are reflected in the eye measurements taken from these people.

“This project could reveal a new way to monitor kidney health and detect kidney disease early, when treatment is more likely to work better,” said Bean. “We are excited to exploit the potential of OCT imaging, which is available in most high street opticians, both for community-based patient management, reducing for the number of times patients living with kidney disease visit hospital, and for wider routine screening of kidney function in the general population.’

Find out more

Read more about our newly funded research.

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