Australian researchers are behind new 3D technology which allows them to map the development of kidneys, during pregnancy.
For the first time, a team of researchers from Victoria and Queensland has developed a 3D mapping approach to watch the kidney develop.
They hope their research will lead to understanding how to offset the growing burden of kidney disease - which contributes to the deaths of thousands of Australians each year.
Dr Ian Smyth is with Monash's School of Biomedical Sciences.
"The kidney's comprised of a bunch of little structures called nephrons, and the number of nephrons can vary wildly one person and another as much as ten fold. So what we're intrested in understanding is how, during embryotic development, how the nephrons are specified, how they form, when they form."
Nephrons filter the blood as it passes through the kidneys, excreting what is not needed, into urine.
Each of us has somewhere between 250,000 and 2,000,000 nephrons in our kidneys - the more you have, the better - and the 3D technology allows researchers to map their growth.
"That's important because later on in life, the number of nephrons you have seems to influence how predisposed you are to developing kidney disease and also conditions like hypertension", Smyth says.
There are 1.7 million Australians with chronic kidney disease - many don't even know they're affected.
Because nephrons develop during the prenatal phase, researchers hope their work will help them better understand the impact certain behaviours and conditions, such as alcohol and drugs, have on the kidney of an unborn child.
Kidney Health Australia CEO Anne Wilson hopes the research can help prevent the growing toll of kidney disease.
"Being able to predict who is going to, or who is most likely to get kidney disease in future and having those and having those markers is a very important development. "
Dr Smyth is confident his team's 3D modelling can eventually be used to map the development of other organs, such as lungs.
Watch the video for more.