Can a smartphone-enabled testing platform make DIY urine tests more accurate?

The researchers’ next goal is to make a more integrated system so that the processing is done on the phone so the user can see the results as soon as testing is done.

stanford u smartphone enabled urine test cA new low-cost, portable device that uses a black box and smartphone camera to help patients get accurate urine test results at home is on the horizon, thanks to engineers from the Electrical Engineering department at Stanford University.

According to the engineers, whose work was published in Lab on a Chip, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, do-it-yourself urine test systems that rely on using urinary dipsticks may be error prone.

Audrey Bowden, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, said “The technology we’ve developed is intended to partner with existing commercial dipstick tests to make the tests more reliable and robust when done at home. We developed a technology that is based on another technology, called SlipChip. Our technology basically uses a plastic version of the SlipChip, which allows you to transfer larger volumes, which are the volumes that are required for the urinalysis dipstick test.”

SlipChip is a glass-based device for transferring nanoliters of fluid. Since the researchers are using volumes that are 1,000 times larger, using a plastic version is less expensive.

So, how does the at-home test work? The user inserts the dipstick into the device, then pushes, or flips forward a component that transfers the urine that’s been added to the chip, onto the pad.

The researchers’ goal was to make the volume of urine that is added to the pad, uniform and error free, so the home tester doesn’t have to worry about how much urine they are adding.

“They just add urine to a reservoir via an eyedropper. The chip takes care of distributing the correct volume of urine to the right location on the dipstick. Then you use a cellphone or some other reader device to read the data that is being visualized on the dipstick,” said Bowden.

The user turns their cellphone on video mode to capture the data. “We designed a box that the cellphone sits on, that is on top of the dipstick. When they flip the dipstick they’re recording the video and then you have the software that processes that video and extracts the data directly from it,” explained Bowden.

The researchers’ next goal is to make a more integrated system so that the processing is done on the phone so the user can see the results as soon as testing is done.

Co-researcher Gennifer Smith, a Ph.D. student in the department of electrical engineering, believes the new technology won’t immediately eliminate tests that are performed in labs. However, she added, “In the long term we hope to replace a lot of the lab work. One of the ideas for this came from realizing the burden of testing on labs now and wanting to relieve some of that and provide doctors with the opportunity to get more information because patients don’t have to go to the labs to get the testing.”

Smith said the new test is not going to diagnose new diseases that don’t have an existing test. “However, it is going to make diagnoses of current diseases more accurate in the hands of users,” she said.

The researchers have filed a provisional patent for their work, and while they haven’t formed a company to bring their test home, they acknowledged that there is commercial interest in developing more robust urine based testing platforms.

Emphasizing that they believe they’ve eliminated user error from their creation, Smith concluded, “There are definitely other aspects of urinalysis that we are investigating. There are extensions of the technology that can move more towards making this a full replacement of lab tests. We are thinking about that.”

Source: Stanford University. Animation by Gennifer Smith