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Following the sodium

The scientists of the Weizmann Institute have developed an original way that makes it possible to diagnose kidney activity using magnetic resonance imaging - MRI.

"Ideas", Weizmann Institute

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Millions of people die from kidney disease, in the western world alone. One out of every 12 people suffers from kidney dysfunction at one point or another in his life. The known ways of examining kidney function are based on blood and urine tests, but these indirect tests do not satisfy the doctors, who strive to find ways to perform direct and non-invasive tests, such as those performed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The problem is that the MRI machines found in the hospitals follow the movement of the water molecules in the tissue, which greatly reduces the usefulness of kidney imaging, because it is difficult to distinguish between the water in the kidney cells and the water that flows through it.

A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, led by Prof. Hadassah Dagani, head of the biological control department, is now offering a way to overcome this difficulty. The new method is based on a way the scientists developed to use the MRI devices to track sodium ions, rather than water molecules. The method is based on a unique feature of the kidneys, which filter the blood and maintain stable levels of essential substances such as sodium and potassium in the bloodstream. In fact, in order for the kidney to be able to perform this function, the concentration of sodium in the center of the kidney needs to be maintained at a level up to five times compared to its concentration in the periphery of the kidney (equal to the concentration of sodium in the other tissues of the body).

Prof. Degani, together with Dr. Nimrod Meril and Ra'an Margalit from her group, and together with Dr. Yoel Misfalter from the Curie Institute in France, developed the means that make it possible to distinguish using MRI - with high resolution in space and time - changes in sodium concentrations in different tissues in a non-invasive way. The scientists used the new means they developed to examine the gradual changes in sodium concentrations in a healthy, functioning rat kidney. We then examined kidneys whose function was damaged and identified the differences in sodium concentration changes between a healthy kidney and a damaged kidney. After that, they were able to diagnose functional changes caused by the use of known drugs according to the changes in sodium. Recently, the scientists were able to distinguish functional differences between different areas of the same kidney. This achievement may allow doctors, in the future, to accurately map the damaged area of ​​the kidney, accurately assess the damage, treat it individually, and even identify processes that may lead to the development of a disease, even before the first symptoms occur.

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