Engineers from Stanford University have created a home urine test with only a black box and a smartphone that can test for disease. The results measure things like glucose, blood and protein levels in order to look for kidney disease, diabetes or urinary tract infections in patients.
Researchers wanted to bring the test home with patients because performing the test within an office not only costs a lot of money but it’s not always easy to get in for an appointment. Oftentimes, it even requires multiple appointments with your health care provider in order to get proper results because they often show up as inconclusive. This can be especially troublesome when a patient has a chronic condition, such as chronic urinary tract infection, forcing patients to wait for confirmation of results before they are able to get a prescription for a medication they and their doctor both know they need.
Assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, Aubrey Bowden says while the do-it-yourself system seems simple, it’s actually quite complex. She said it’s not as quick as dipping a stick in urine and waiting for color changes. A lot can go wrong and this is why doctors do not generally trust the results.
Stanford engineers excitedly discussed their new test in the Lab on a Chip journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Bowden and Gennifer Smith, a PhD student in electrical engineering, have created a low cost and portable device that will limit the need for patients to go to a physical appointment with their doctor, while consistently being able to take urine tests with great accuracy. The pair believes their test works better than other works in progress because they based it off of the tests used in professional settings.
The standard dipstick test was originally invented in 1956 to test blood sugar levels. Today’s versions consist of a paper strip that holds 10 square pads. Each pad is used to test for a different chemical known to occur in common health concerns. The pads will change color when exposed to the chemical being tested for. With the help of color reference charts, testers can pinpoint the diseases present.
Bowden and Smith built a system that combats the main areas of error in home testing, which are lighting, volume control and timing. Because the test is based on colors, the lighting in the area the test is viewed must be consistent. This is why the team built a black box to cover the dipstick.
Too little or too few urine can also wreak havoc on results and this is why Bowden and Smith designed a multi-layer system that spreads urine throughout the dipstick, using a dropper to first apply liquid to the first layer and then filling up the second and finally the third. When the third layer is placed into the black box, a uniform amount of urine is spread on all ten pads.
With the help of a smartphone being placed on top of the black box, custom software reads video and takes care of both the timing for each test as well as the analysis of the color results. Video automatically begins when the tester inserts the third layer into the box. To read results, the smartphone is simply connected to a computer software program.
Researchers hope to simplify the test even further in the future by having all test results available immediately on the smartphone, with results auto-sent to designated health-care providers. They are currently working closely with the Stanford Office of Technology Licensing to see if the new test can be commercialized and sent to areas that do not have easy access to health care clinics.