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Imagine going to the doctor to complain that it burns when you’re taking a leak, only to find him taking pictures of your urine sample. Would feel awkward, wouldn’t it? Well, this could soon be the scenario if the latest tech discovered by biological engineers at the University of Bath takes hold of the medical market.   

These scientists have reportedly developed a test that uses a smartphone camera to diagnose Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in less than 30 minutes. This test checks a urine sample for the presence of E. coli bacteria. UTIs are said to be cause majorly by E. coli, making up 80% of the cases.   

The scientists from the University of Bath say that this new test is radically better and cheaper than lab-based tests. Dr Nuno Reis, who led the test development explains, “The test is small and portable, so it has major potential for use in primary care settings and in developing countries. Currently, bacterial infections in UTIs are confirmed via microbiological testing of a urine sample.”

Dr Reis adds, “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.”

The process of testing for E. coli using a smartphone is simple. The urine sample is put over a plastic micro-capillary strip laced with an antibody that can differentiate E. coli bacterial cells. 

The antibody will bind with E. coli cells, stopping them from crossing the plastic strip cross-section. An enzyme added to the sample changes colour on contact with the bacteria. This change in colour can be picked up by the smartphone camera. Furthermore, the E. coli concentration can be measured by analyzing the image. 

This simple test that does not require a huge power supply, has been featured in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics. I hope scientists come up with a smartphone-aided test for AIDS too. It would make the process private and easy. 

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