New test could diagnose a UTI in just 25 minutes using phone camera

Test has ‘major potential for use in primary care settings and in developing countries’, researcher says

Sabrina Barr
Monday 06 January 2020 11:12 GMT

Scientists have developed a new test that could diagnose urinary tract infections (UTIs) in 25 minutes by using a smartphone camera.

Biological engineers at the University of Bath developed technology that identifies the presence of E.coli bacteria in bacterial UTIs.

When harmful E.coli bacteria is found in bacterial UTIs, which occurs in approximately 80 per cent of cases, patients are typically treated with a course of antibiotics.

According to the University of Bath scientists, whose research is published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, their new test is faster and cheaper than the existing lab-based tests.

The test is carried out by passing a urine sample over a ridged plastic micro-capillary strip, which contains an antibody that can detect E.coli bacterial cells.

If E.coli is present in the sample, the antibodies will bind it and prevent it from passing through the plastic strip.

An enzyme is then added to the strip that causes a change in colour, which can be captured by a camera on a smartphone.

The concentration of E.coli in the urine sample can then be measured by analysing the photograph.

“The test is small and portable – so it has major potential for use in primary care settings and in developing countries,” said Dr Nuno Reis, from the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineer who led the development of the test.

“Currently, bacterial infections in UTIs are confirmed via microbiological testing of a urine sample. That is accurate, but time-consuming, taking several days.”

Dr Reis added that he and his team hope their test will provide medical professionals with the “ability to quickly rule in or rule out certain conditions”, thus allowing them to treat patients at a fast rate.

They also believe it would help them “make better decisions about the prescription of antibiotics”.

“The UK and wealthy countries have seen a big shift to decentralised diagnostics to reduce the load on national or regional labs and provide doctors with important tools to make informed diagnoses,” the scientist stated.

“Driving more of this will bring better outcomes to patients in terms of speeding up the process, but will also lower the cost to healthcare providers.”

The test will need to go through clinical trials, while the scientists begin working on how they can refine the test so that it can be used to detect the presence and concentration of other types of bacteria.

UTIs can affect different areas of your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra or kidneys, the NHS outlines.

Symptoms of UTIs can include a sudden urge to urinate, a burning sensation when you urinate, blood in your urine or pain in the lower region of your stomach.

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