A fresh look at kidney stones

A fresh look at kidney stones

Kidney stones, those minuscule lumps of yuck that cause so much pain to eliminate, apparently have a great deal in common with intricately beautiful mineral deposits at Yellowstone’s geysers, or the majestic coral found in offshore reefs.

Bisecting the stones, then putting them under a microscope, reveals in some stones pretty, crystalline patterns of stunning detail.

A paper published in the journal Scientific Reports recounts the stones’ complex architecture and also concluded that kidney stones do, contrary to common medical wisdom, dissolve within the kidney and then re-form.

Scientists from several universities collaborated to cut dozens of stones into thin slices, then polish them and analyze the mineral makeup and chemistry. Most kidney stones are made of calcium oxalate, a type of waste meant to be expelled from the body in urine. But when there is not enough liquid to keep the various kinds of waste suspended, tiny stones form.

They can get stuck in the kidney or urinary tract. Even if they keep moving, they often cause immense pain as they do. If stones don’t exit the body on their own, they may be surgically removed or blasted apart using shockwaves.

But thanks to this study, a greater understanding of the formation and makeup of the stones highlights the potential for developing new treatment strategies. If the body can dissolve kidney stones, then perhaps scientists can figure out how to achieve this, too. Such a process is called “in vivo stone dissolution.”

That sounds much more pleasant than surgery or intense shockwaves … or the excruciating wait-it-out approach.

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