Researchers at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in South Korea have successfully imaged the kidney’s 3D microvasculature using ultrafast ultrasound. This breakthrough, featured in Advanced Science, helps in the prevention and treatment of kidney failure related to conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

Common medical imaging methods like CT and MRI have limitations when it comes to capturing fine vascular structures due to constraints in resolution and sensitivity. Moreover, the use of contrast agents in these methods is often restricted due to potentially fatal side effects in patients with kidney disease.

In stark contrast, ultrasound imaging, known for its safety in fetal monitoring, utilizes the Doppler effect to measure real-time blood flow velocity and direction without the need for contrast agents. However, current ultrasound imaging speed falls short in capturing fine blood vessels with the required sensitivity.

The research team improved microvascular sensitivity using ultrafast ultrasound, capturing 1,000 frames per second, over 100 times faster than traditional methods. They achieved a breakthrough by visualizing the complete 3D vascular network in the kidney without requiring contrast agents.

Furthermore, the team continuously observed renal vascular changes in an animal model with induced renal failure, performing multivariate analysis using hemodynamic and vascular morphological indicators. Their findings unveiled a sharp decrease in renal blood flow during acute renal failure, and in cases of diabetic nephropathy, they identified chronic vascular degeneration in the kidneys accompanied by vascular distortion.

POSTECH Professor Chulhong Kim, PhD, who developed this breakthrough, explains, “The system allows us to understand the pathophysiology of diseases leading to kidney failure, enabling the observation of vascular changes before and after kidney transplantation. It has significant potential for studying blood circulation and functional impairment across various organs, including the digestive system, circulatory system, and cerebral nervous system.”