This Device Would Let You Diagnose A UTI At Home

Stanford researchers have created an at-home urinalysis test

Photo Illustration: Vocativ
May 19, 2016 at 12:54 PM ET

A typical checkup at the doctor’s office often requires you to pee in a cup. You might not have sat and pondered what, exactly, becomes of that pee, but usually the urine is whisked off to the lab. There, it’s subjected to a so-called dipstick test, in which the technician dips a test paper into your pee. Depending on which squares on the paper strip change color, doctors can tell if a patient has poor kidney function, high cholesterol, an infection, or dangerously high blood sugar levels.

Now researchers from Stanford University have developed an at-home version of a urinalysis test that uses a small box and an app to identify these medical conditions just as reliably as the tests clinicians use, according to a study published recently in the journal Lab on a Chip.

In an effort to reduce the burden of urinalysis tests on clinicians, manufacturers have created at-home DIY versions that typically only test one thing. Patients (or their employers) can buy simple versions to detect, for example, a urinary tract infection, blood in the urine, or evidence of recent drug use. And while these tests can be useful as an initial indicator, they don’t help a doctor much. These at-home tests can be done wrong, or the results misinterpreted. Plus, most of them reveal if a particular compound is present, but not how much.

This new system requires the user to assemble a black box. To analyze the urine, the user would place his or her phone on top of the box (its camera fits through a small hole), then place a clean dipstick inside the box and adds some urine to it using a dropper. The colors change to indicate the presence of various compounds, and the smartphone app would analyze the results in real time.

If a patient has chronic UTIs, for example, she wouldn’t have to go to the doctor and wait for days in pain for the lab results to come back. Instead, in theory, she could merely send her doctor the results of the reliable at-home test, and the doctor could prescribe her antibiotics right then.

This isn’t the first smartphone-enabled at-home urinalysis tool. In 2013, the app Uchek was being tested in hospitals in India to accurately analyze urinalysis strips. And though this device requires a black box, which Uchek does not, it can control lighting conditions to make sure the phone camera is reading the strip properly. Users also don’t have to dip the strips in their own pee—the device distributes the pee appropriately, study author Audrey Bowden tells Vocativ. That’s important because putting too much urine on the testing strip can alter the results.

The researchers are looking to commercialize their product, which they hope can not only be used by patients, but also by remote medical centers that have limited resources.