U of M collaboration aims to maximize kidney disease screening through micro device

A group of scientists and doctors at the University of Manitoba are developing a point-of-care screening test for chronic kidney disease (CKD).

The test would be encased inside a small, credit-card-sized chip which could potentially allow a patient to screen themselves at home, eliminating the need to travel to get the test done.

Nephrologist Dr. Claudio Rigatto, who is also an associate professor of medicine at U of M and a researcher at the Chronic Disease Innovation Centre at Seven Oaks Hospital, is one of the collaborators on the project.

He told CTV News CKD is very common (1 in 10 people have it) and many patients develop complications which are extremely expensive to treat, the most common being kidney failure where a patient is put on dialysis.

He said, at the same time, there are very effective drugs on the market that can prevent kidney failure if CKD is caught early.

“Unfortunately, we have this persistent screening gap,” he said. “The problem is patients have no symptoms so we need to test for the presence of early CKD and about 50 per cent of patients that need testing aren’t getting it.”

Dr. Rigatto said there are many reasons why patients are not being screened, but the biggest one is access.

“For example, in Manitoba, I treat a lot of patients that come from a smaller, rural, sometimes very remote communities and it can be a real challenge to get them to a lab to get this testing,” he explained. “Even in urban centres like Winnipeg, we know there are, sort of, health-care deserts where it can be very difficult, particularly in vulnerable communities, to access these tests.”

He said idea behind this chip is to instead bring the lab to the patient and meet them where they are.

“Then we could really bridge that screening gap and provide needed testing to a much larger proportion of patients at-risk for CKD,” said Dr. Regatto.

“We’ve developed this low-cost, compact, portable device that basically minimizes what normally is a bench-top device. But this chip provides results quickly, it provides them at low cost and it can provide them at point-of-care.”

Dr. Rigatto said a good comparison is a diabetes test strip and reader that people use to test their blood sugar levels.

Francis Lin, professor in the U of M’s department of physics and astronomy, has been working in his lab to design a prototype.

He said the chip they have can test for Urine Albumin (UAL) concentration levels, which is a well-established biomarker for kidney disease.

Inside the UAL chip are the reagents needed to interact with a drop of someone’s urine.

“Once they react, they generate a strong optical signal which can be read by a microscope, or eventually by a portable reader with the nurses in a clinic or the patient themselves.”

The prototype they have developed has 16 tests in it; Lin said each test costs 16 cents to make.

“We closely collaborated with clinical researchers at the local hospital and we successfully validated this UAL chip to get a working testing result with high sensitivity and accuracy,” Lin said.

Lin said the UAL chip technology was recently licenced to a company called MyHealth Logic.

“A partnership has also been established between the company and the university to further develop this UAL chip technology with the hope to have this test clinically available hopefully within three years.”

“This is a much for effective way to deliver health-care,” said Dr. Rigatto.

Rigatto said initially, the UAL chip test may be accessible through doctor’s offices or pharmacies, but the team is exploring the option of mailing the chip directly to patients.