Bioengineers at the University of Bath have developed a test that can help healthcare workers quickly diagnose urinary tract infections (UTIs) using an ordinary smartphone camera.
Similar in principle to a pregnancy test, the process can identify the presence of harmful E. coli bacteria in a urine sample in just 25 minutes. It is much faster than existing tests, and because it has the potential to be portable and can be much less expensive than existing lab-based tests, it could make accurate UTI testing more widely available in developing countries and remote areas available.
E. coli is present in 80% of bacterial UTIs, so if found, it can tell medical professionals that antibiotic treatment is needed. The test, which can be used as a smartphone camera to detect a variety of bacterial infections, utilizes widely available reagents and novel microengineered materials. The simplicity of the test, which has passed the proof-of-concept stage, could provide a new way to rapidly identify treatments for patients in poor or remote areas, the researchers said.
Described in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, the test uses antibodies to capture bacterial cells in very thin capillaries in plastic strips to detect and identify cells optically rather than through currently used microbiological methods . Dr Nuno Reis from Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering led the development of the test. He said: “The tester is small and portable – so it has great potential for application in primary care settings and developing countries.
“Currently, a UTI can be confirmed as a bacterial infection by microbiological examination of a urine sample. This is accurate, but time-consuming, taking several days. We hope that this will allow medical professionals to quickly rule out or rule out certain The ability of the situation can enable them to treat patients faster and help them make better decisions about antibiotic prescribing.”
In many cases, the lack of rapid diagnosis of urinary tract infections has led to the all-encompassing prescribing of potentially unnecessary antibiotics, which increases the risk of bacteria becoming resistant to treatment – considered a threat to global health and development One of the biggest threats.
The test is performed by passing a urine sample through a ridged strip of plastic microcapillary tubes containing immobilized antibodies capable of recognizing E. coli bacterial cells. If E. coli is present in the sample, the antibodies in the reagent will bind to it, preventing it from passing through the plastic strip section. Finally, an enzyme is added that causes a color change that can be picked up by a smartphone camera.
The system also measures the concentration of E. coli in the sample by analyzing the images captured by the camera. The process is simple and can be done manually or fully automated without the need for mains power.
To date, agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved the technology using smartphones – pointing to the possibility that non-laboratory conditions and phone software updates make testing unscientific. But Dr Reis hopes testing the use of a variable scale to digitally compare pixels in an image will convince regulators to allow the treatment to move towards final production.