“The worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life”
“There’s nothing else that feels like it”
You probably know of someone who currently has kidney stones or has had them before, so these cries of pain may sound pretty familiar. In fact, over half a million individuals go to the emergency room each year for kidney stone problems (1). Depending on where someone lives, the risk of developing kidney stones may be higher or lower. This could be due to diet, dehydration, or simply the climate within a certain region. Although the majority of kidney stones will pass on their own, the excruciating pain associated with this process can last for weeks! For stones that are harder to pass, surgery, shockwave therapy (abbreviated ESWL), or drugs are options, but these may not be ideal for a variety of reasons. Accessibility, cost, and wait times are among the most common reasons why people opt to wait for their stones to pass spontaneously.
If we think of this on a global scale, it may be that resources for treatment are scarce or unavailable. It may be that people live too far from a hospital that offers such treatments. It may be that people simply cannot pay for these services because there is very limited insurance coverage. Taking all these factors into account, it is very unfortunate that in places where the rates of kidney stone development are highest, the rates of treatment are lowest.
On top of this, residual fragments may remain in the kidney even after kidney stone removal, which may consequently increase the chance of future stone recurrence.
Being from the Philippines (and, specifically, a rural area called Zaragoza), I know a lot of people (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) who have had kidney stones. Most of them don’t even consider treatment since the closest hospital is 45 minutes away while the closest ESWL treatment centre is 2.5 hours away. Even if these were closer, adequate insurance coverage is rare in my province, so the majority of people would not be able to afford treatment. Having one treatment is hard enough – having repeated treatments due to stone recurrence is almost unimaginable!
Furthermore, false health information around kidney stones is so prevalent that people may face other health consequences even after passing stones. For instance, my aunt was told by her friend that she must stop consuming calcium to prevent stone recurrence. Thus, she did not consume any dairy products for over six months!
For the next four months, I will challenge myself in the Rehab Robotics Laboratory by working on a completely novel design for a low-cost device, implementable in rural areas (like my province in the Philippines), that can accelerate the dislodgement of kidney stone fragments. When implemented in conjunction with access to better health information (like appropriate dietary or lifestyle choices), I am hoping that we can eventually use this method to minimize stone recurrence in the future.
I know this fight against kidney stones will be hard … but with an incredible team of engineers, physicians, and community members, I hope that my Stretch will be a stepping stone so that one day, we can finally break this problem apart!
1st Year PLLC Scholar/4th Year Student in the Department of Pharmacology
1. National Kidney Foundation. (2016). Kidney Stones. Retrieved from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones