New smartphone camera test could speed up urinary tract infection diagnosis

Scientists at the University of Bath say the test can help fight the global threat of antibiotic resistance.
By Tammy Lovell
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Biological engineers at the University of Bath have developed a test that could help medics quickly diagnose urinary tract infections (UTIs) using a smartphone camera.

The process can identify the presence of harmful E. coli bacteria in a urine sample in just 25 minutes.

It works by passing a urine sample over a plastic strip, containing an immobilising antibody able to recognise E. coli bacterial cells. An enzyme is added that causes a change in colour that can be picked up by a smartphone camera.

The next step for the process is clinical trials, which will require collaboration with clinical and commercial partners. Also, the team will shortly begin working on refining the test to allow for the detection of other bacteria and their concentrations, which will help prescribe correct dosages and avoid the overuse of antibiotics.

WHY IT MATTERS

The lack of rapid diagnostics for UTIs has in many cases led to a catch-all prescription of antibiotics, which increases the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to treatment.

As well as being faster than existing testing, scientists say the test’s portability could make accurate UTI testing more widely available in developing nations and remote regions.

Described in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, the test uses antibodies to capture bacterial cells in very thin capillaries within a plastic strip, detecting and identifying the cells optically rather than through the microbiological methods currently used.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Meanwhile, US start-up Scanwell Health recently raised $3.5 million in seed funding for a smartphone-based platform for home UTI screening.

In July last year, Tel-Aviv, Israel-based startup Healthy.io announced the rollout of its technology-enabled Dip UTI test kits across 300 Boots pharmacies in the UK after a pilot carried out in London, Sheffield and Cardiff. 

ON THE RECORD

Dr Reis said: “Currently, bacterial infections in UTIs are confirmed via microbiological testing of a urine sample. That is accurate, but time-consuming, taking several days. We hope that giving medical professionals the ability to quickly rule in or rule out certain conditions will allow them to treat patients more quickly and help them make better decisions about the prescription of antibiotics.”