Low-cost, in home testing of urine samples made reliable by a smartphone

Screenshot 2016-05-16 12.18.26
Stanford University School of Engineering

Original news release was published by Stanford University, written by Shara Tonn.

Testing of urine samples is a ubiquitous practice that we have come to accept as a part of an ordinary checkup when visiting a doctor. One urine sample can be enough to indicate evidence of kidney disease, diabetes, urinary tract infections and even signs of bladder cancer. The truth is, however, that the process behind the testing is rather laborious: it takes time away from clinics and costs money. Not to mention that chronic patients have to wait for conclusive results for a long time, as daily monitoring of urine samples is out of the question.

That is why cheap urinary dipsticks have been developed for use in any setting, even at home. The disposable paper strips are fairly error-prone though. The volume of urine used for testing can change the outcome of the test, while lighting conditions in the room can affect the patient’s perception of colors, causing wrong interpretation of results. Timing is also a significant factor, as testing for various diseases requires various length of exposure, requiring either heavy micro-management, or smart automation.

“It’s such a hassle to go into the doctor’s office for such a simple test,” said Genniger Smith, PhD student in electrical engineering at Stanford University. “This device can remove the burden in developed countries and in facilities where they don’t have the resources to do these tests.”

Smith and Audrey Bowden, associate professor of electrical engineering at SU, set out to tackle these issues in an effort to take some load off of physicians. They have designed a low-cost portable system that allows for reliable home-testing of urine samples by confining the dipstick within a box with consistent lighting conditions, a loader device that controls the volume of the sample, an ordinary phone camera, and a computer program that evaluates the snapshot of the paper strip. The strip has ten pads, each testing for a different condition with readout times between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Once the two minutes are up, the person can transfer the recording to a software program on their computer. For each pad, it pulls out the frames from the correct time and reads out the results.

In the future, the engineers would like to design an app that would do the analysis on the phone and then send results directly to the doctor.

Meanwhile, they are working with the Stanford Office of Technology Licensing to see whether and how the idea might be commercialized, either as a home test in developed nations or as a baseline medical instrument in areas that don’t have easy access to well-stocked clinics.

Michal Dudic

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