Innovation

Smartphone Test Reportedly Detects Urinary Tract Infections In Minutes

A smartphone test developed by researchers at the University of Bath can help diagnose a urinary tract infection (UTI) within a matter of 25 minutes. The speedy result delivered by this latest innovation can be of great help to developing nations, where the infection is most prevalent. 

Generally, urine samples have to be tested in a laboratory setting to confirm the presence of a UTI that only happens after a few days. The problem arises when antibiotics are overly prescribed to treat potential UTIs in poorer nations without proper resources, which then leads to antibiotic resistance, a global health concern doctors are grappling with worldwide. 

Accurate UTI tests are thus needed in remote parts of the world, especially in primary care settings for faster detection. Due to its portability and cheap cost, the researchers believe that the new test could be more accessible to medical professionals in these regions, who can prescribe the right antibiotic medication in the nick of time. 

“We are not talking about replacing centralised diagnostics services but providing the first point of contact with affordable and rapid tools to support prescription of antibiotics and avoid their overuse," Dr. Nuno Reis, who led the development of the test, said.

How The Camera Captures E. coli Concentrations In Urine Samples

The paper, published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics in December 2019, explained how the smartphone camera helps accomplish the feat. E. coli cells that cause 80 percent of  bacterial UTIs are identified when a urine sample is run down a ridged plastic micro-capillary strip.  

The strip contains immobilizing antibodies that bind with E.coli if detected, which prevents it from going through the plastic component of the strip. In order to make the final diagnosis, an enzyme is added to the strip that aids a change in the color of the urine with UTIs. 

The color change is then seen on the smartphone camera, which also measures the concentration of  E. coli in the urine sample. Not only is the procedure manually operated with potential for automation, it does not cause stress on power and energy resources, making it highly convenient. 

Although, the test has already passed the proof-of-concept stage, Dr. Reis has more convincing left to do. Dr. Reis is hoping to compare the pixels of the images on a scale established by the researchers to make his case. 

Regulatory bodies are skeptical about allowing smartphone techniques for diagnosis because they may not be scientific. They fear these tests can be misused in a non-lab environment and by just merely updating phones with a software does not guarantee medical accuracy. 

The scientists are planning to further their research. They aim to develop detection methods for other bacterial concentrations as well in the near future. 

Urine Test Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are more prevalent in developing nations. The smartphone camera test developed by University of Bath researchers helps with early detection and treatment to prevent the overuse of antibiotics. Shutterstock

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