Noninvasive & High-Contrast Imaging of Kidney Function Enabled by Renal Clearable Nanofluorophores


    The University of Texas at Dallas is seeking companies interested in commercializing a renal-clearable contrast agent that is the first to enable high-resolution, noninvasive, fluorescent imaging of kidney function. Kidney disease affects more than 10% of adults worldwide and the current technologies used to detect and track the progress of renal complications possess numerous drawbacks. Until now, very few fluorescent contrast agents have been able to noninvasively report Kidney Clearance Kinetics (KCK) – but even these have faced significant challenges due to limited light penetration depth and, more significantly, their rapid and persistent accumulation in the skin and other surrounding tissues.

    The presented technology is a renal clearable inorganic nanofluorophore, near-infrared(NIR)-emitting glutathione-coated gold nanoparticle (GS-AuNP), which integrates the deep tissue penetration of NIR light with desired in vivo behaviors of contrast agents to achieve high-contrast noninvasive fluorescence kidney imaging with a greatly extended detection time window. This technology has been demonstrated to be effective in diagnosing unilateral ureter obstruction (UUO), as the fluorescence is used to quantitatively measure the function of a fully obstructed kidney without the need for surgery. The kidney time-fluorescence intensity curves (TFICs) can report the clearance kinetics of GS-AuNPs through the kidney – significantly, the noninvasively obtained TFICs were similar in quality to those obtained invasively. The myriad of benefits provided by these GS-AuNPs are highly-desirable for implementation into preclinical kidney research, early disease diagnosis, and could even be used to visually-guide kidney surgeries.


Technical Summary:

    The GS-AuNP not only provides significant improvements over existing renal clearable fluorophores, achieving approximately 50- and 1000-fold increases in kidney-contrast enhancement and imaging time windows, respectively, over IRDye 800CW. but also provides benefits over other testing methods for kidney function. Blood tests are the most common method for evaluating kidney function, but these often fail to identify functional changes at early stages – especially in unilateral renal disease (where one kidney functions well). This challenge was addressed with renography, a noninvasive kidney functional imaging technique, to monitor individual kidneys. GS-AuNPs expand the capabilities of fluorescent renography by effectively reporting unilateral kidney dysfunction (unlike blood tests), quantifying individual kidney function, and even differentiating dysfunction stages. Most renography has been performed with the use of nuclear imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) for both clinical diagnosis and preclinical kidney function studies, but these methods are limited by high costs, accessibility, and potential radiation exposure. The GS-AuNPs enable similar imaging capabilities to the methods utilizing radiotracers, but at a lower-cost, with greater accessibility, and no radiation.


Value Proposition:

    The renal clearable nanofluorophore, GS-AuNP, enables high-resolution noninvasive fluorescence imaging of kidney function with an extended detection time window, providing evidence suitable for early disease diagnosis, informing preclinical research, and even imaging-guided surgeries.



  • Early Disease Diagnosis - noninvasively reports unilateral kidney dysfunction and quantifies its stages; Blood tests often fail to identify early stages of kidney disease, particularly for unilateral kidney disease
  • Imaging-Guided Surgery - extended detection time window is suitable monitoring kidneys throughout lengthy surgical procedures
  • Non-Invasive Study of Kidney Clearance Kinetics (KCK) - TFICs accurately reflect how the GS-AuNPs pass through the kidneys


Key Benefits:

  • Simple – Exhibits intrinsic NIR emission without conjugation of dyes
  • Accessible – Inexpensive & noninvasive way to report KCK
  • High sensitivity - Optimized surface chemistry enhances kidney contrast by minimizing accumulation in background tissues
  • Non-invasive - First noninvasive fluorophore to provide high-resolution kidney imaging with images comparable to invasive methods
  • Reduces risk - There is no risk of any radiation exposure; provides a non-invasive method for early diagnosis (and treatment) of kidney disease



Yu, Mengxiao, et al. “High-Contrast Noninvasive Imaging of Kidney Clearance Kinetics Enabled by Renal Clearable Nanofluorophores.” Angewandte Chemie International Edition, vol. 54, no. 51, 29 Oct. 2015, pp. 15434–15438., doi:10.1002/anie.201507868.

IP Status: Patent pending.

Licensing Opportunity: This technology is available for exclusive or non-exclusive licensing.

ID Number: 15027


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
OTC Licensing
Jie Zheng
Mengxiao Yu
Life Sciences
Molecular Biology
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