Kidney research charity funds universities’ plan to improve patient treatment

A major UK research charity is funding a project to improve the outcome of dialysis treatment to people suffering from serious kidney conditions.

Kidney Research UK has provided a £234,000 grant to academics from the University of Derby and the University of Nottingham’s Medical School, based at the Royal Derby Hospital, who are working together to use data obtained during treatment and machine learning to predict when a patient’s blood pressure may drop during treatment.

Dialysis is a process of removing toxins and excess fluid from the blood for patients whose kidneys are unable to perform that function naturally. To do that, the patients’ blood must be taken and processed through a dialysis machine before being restored over a session of up to four hours long, several times per week.

The universities have already been collaborating on the five-year £1.4M iTrend (Intelligent Technologies for Renal Dialysis and Diagnostics) programme, developing technology and algorithms to continuously monitor blood pressure throughout the treatment, conducting hundreds of hours of patient studies in the process.

This new project, named DIAMONDS (Dialysis Monitoring for Decision Support), involves using data obtained through patient studies to predict when an individual’s blood pressure levels may start to significantly drop, enabling staff overseeing the dialysis process to respond in a timely manner by adjusting the dialysis machine’s treatment regime.

Over the next two years, the project will use the data acquired through the iTrend project, which was backed by the MStart Trust set up by Derby businessman Mel Morris, to develop the new predictive system.

Paul Stewart, Professor in Intelligent Systems at the University of Derby, said: “The aim of the project is to establish whether we can enhance the monitoring system we have already developed by using data to accurately predict when changes in blood pressure are likely to occur.

“There are generalised patterns across the population, but each patient has a unique cardiovascular system and response to treatment, so the onset of hypotension (low blood pressure) is an extremely difficult prediction to make.

“We can also collect data during treatment for factors other than blood pressure which may help us to make more accurate predictions through a machine learning system.”

Professor Nicholas Selby, Professor of Nephrology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, said: “We have had fantastic funding support for our work in the iTrend programme and we are very grateful to Kidney Research UK for providing this further grant to enable us to develop and test this new predictive capability.

“A sudden drop in blood pressure can have serious long term health consequences to the major organs, so to be able to predict when a patient’s BP may drop will help nursing staff to ensure that is avoided, and that the comfort and quality of the patients’ treatment experience is maximised.”

Dr Aisling McMahon, executive director of research, innovation and policy at Kidney Research UK, said: “After a tough year, we are thrilled to be back funding exciting projects like this. This innovative and important study could help to transform dialysis for kidney patients. If successful, this new technology will provide a simple way for doctors to predict a sudden drop in blood pressure, allowing them to take action early, preventing unpleasant symptoms and long-term complications in people who depend on this life-saving treatment.”

Professor Warren Manning, Provost (Innovation and Research) at the University of Derby, said: “This is a superb example of essential research being conducted in collaboration between universities which has the potential to deliver positive and lasting benefits to many people across our region and beyond.

“I congratulate the team on securing the support of Kidney Research UK and look forward to learning about the impact that this new capability could have on the patients it aims to help.”

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