Sensor provides cleaner way to detect urinary tract infection

New sensor developed at Purdue helps doctors spot UTIs without obtaining patient samples (Pixabay)
New sensor developed at Purdue helps doctors spot UTIs without obtaining patient samples (Pixabay)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem with babies and young children, responsible for nearly ten million doctor visits each year in the U.S. To deal with this issue, Purdue University researchers have come up with a way to embed an autonomous sensor device in diapers to better detect UTIs. Purdue researchers tested the prototype with synthetic urine samples and found them to be more accurate than commercial dipsticks.

The disposable device has been tested and proven to accurately detect infections.
Purdue University researchers embedded an autonomous sensor device in diapers to improve detection of urinary tract infections.
Purdue University researchers embedded an autonomous sensor
device in diapers to improve detection of urinary tract infections.

Checking for UTIs at the doctor's office typically involves testing a urine sample for bacteria and blood cells. But individuals who wear diapers make these samples difficult to collect.

"We have at least two big advantages here with our device," says Babak Ziaie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue. "Because it's autonomous, it doesn't require the patient or caregiver to obtain urine samples, and it can help detect an infection in people who either aren't able to communicate their symptoms, or they don't show typical symptoms."

UTIs develop when bacteria get into the urinary tract and multiply, leading to redness and pain in the urinary tract. Typical symptoms include an urgent need to urinate, a burning feeling when using the bathroom and a strong odor to the urine. The infection can easily spread to the kidneys and become more severe.

The self-powered, bandage-sized sensor developed by Purdue University researchers is activated upon contact with urine, with the battery powering the sensor circuitry. The sensor checks for nitrites, chemicals commonly associated with urinary tract infections, and transmits the results via a smartphone to the patient, caregiver, and/or health care network if required.

"The autonomous feature improves accuracy because it checks for UTIs on a regular basis, increasing the amount of data. It can also track changes in the status of UTIs over time," says Byunghoo Jung, a Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering who worked with Ziaie on this technology.

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