Portable tech lets smartphones quickly test for urinary tract infections
Currently, in order to determine if someone has a urinary tract infection, a sample of their urine has to be sent off to a lab – it typically takes several days to get results. Now, however, scientists have created a smartphone-enabled system that works in less than 25 minutes.
Developed by a team at Britain's University of Bath, the setup incorporates inexpensive plastic strips that have tiny channels etched into their surface. Embedded within these microchannels is a reagent, which in turn contains antibodies of a specific type.
When a drop of urine is placed on one of the strips, capillary action draws it through the channels. The antibodies will bind with any E.coli bacteria that are present in the urine, holding the microbes in place. Next, an enzyme is added. If there are any E. coli trapped in the channels, this will cause them – and thus the strip – to fluoresce in a different color.
Utilizing the camera of a third-party smartphone, an app then analyzes that color-change, advising the user as to the concentration of E. coli within the urine. According to the university, E. coli is present in approximately 80 percent of all bacterial urinary tract infections – that said, the technology can reportedly be adapted to test for other types of bacteria.
Once developed further, the microfluidic system could conceivably be used in remote regions or developing nations, where laboratory-based testing isn't available. Additionally, by making it quicker and easier to see if a patient does indeed have an infection, it is hoped that the setup could help reduce the overprescription of antibiotics.
A paper on the research, which is being led by Dr. Nuno Reis, was recently published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Source: University of Bath