Urine tests with dip strips — or dipsticks as they’re more commonly called — are an excellent example of what appears on the surface to be very simple technology. You just pee in a cup (or a tube if you have particularly good aim) and dip in a small strip of chemically treated paper. Take it out, wait a few seconds or minutes (according to the test), and then, depending on what color the strip does or doesn’t turn, you know the results. Urine dipstick tests can check for the presence or levels of blood glucose, protein, specific chemicals, kidney disease, diabetes, urinary tract infections, bladder cancer, and even pregnancy. So it seems simple. But it’s not.
The right amount of urine has to be on the test part of the strip (call it the test ‘pad’); it has to be there for the right amount of time; and then it must be analyzed under the proper light conditions. All of these factors must be controlled to get accurate readings. In addition to controlling for the accuracy factors, urine tests take time, space, and people to handle and analyze the samples. Time, space, and people are three major factors in the cost of medical care. Another issue with conventional urine testing is the patient has to go to the health care facility and pee in a container. Convenience and time matter on the patient side, too.
Stanford engineers have worked on the “simple” urine dipstick testing procedure and have devised a newer tech method that lets people do the urine test at home and send in the results for analysis by qualified medical personnel. The solution involves a dark, foldable cardboard box, a foldable three-layer cardboard tray with a plastic insert to hold a paper dipstick with up to ten separate test pads, and an app for a smartphone with video capability.
Once you assemble the box and the tray with the dipstick, you set the phone in position on the top of the dark box (which controls for light so the images will be consistent). You pee in a cup, draw some urine into an included pipette, start the video going, disperse some of the urine into the tray, slide the tray into the box, and then wait for a few minutes (that will depend on what test pads are on the dipstick). You can then take it all apart and throw out the dipstick and clean the plastic tray and pipette. The recorded video can then be sent to a medical facility for analysis.
The elements of the home urine test have been designed and now the question is what they’re going to do with them. The engineers are working with the Stanford Office of Technology Licensing to investigate bringing the technology to market. In addition to making regular urine testing a lot simpler for everyone, they are also exploring uses in developing nations or in underserved areas in any country.