One of the most recent entrants to the mobile health market is a urine albumin tester you can take anywhere, which could save patients with kidney damage significant time and money.

The tester was designed in the lab of Aydogan Ozcan, a professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and associate director of the California NanoSystems Institute.

His research, published in the journal Lab on a Chip, shows that the urinary albumin tester has mainstream potential for smartphone users who need to keep their kidney health in check.  

“Urinary albumin testing is frequently done to assess kidney damage, especially for diabetes patients,” said Ozcan in a press release. “This cellphone based device provides an extremely convenient platform for chronic patients at home or in remote locations where cellphones work.”

How Does It Work?

Urine is collected in a disposable container and extracted with a mini syringe, then put through a test tube connected to a smartphone. Beams of light are projected through two tubes on the device—one with the urine sample mixed with fluorescent dyes and one with a control liquid.

The smartphone’s camera captures the fluorescent light. Then, an Android application processes the image and transmits the information to the appropriate database or health care provider to measure the urine’s albumin concentration. The whole test takes about five minutes.

And for those who are skeptical about body fluids coming near their smartphones, Ozcan says not to fear: “The urine samples are entirely kept isolated from the cellphone using custom-designed cuvettes that are disposable. In this regard, there is no liquid leakage to the cellphone body.”

It’s a sanitary process that keeps both the user and the smartphone clean.

The Future of Smartphones?

Because of their ubiquity, smartphones are quickly becoming tools for medical detection and diagnosis.

“Our lab has been working on various different micro-analysis and diagnostic platforms that are integrated with and attached to cellphones,” Ozcan said. “Some other examples that we have demonstrated include cellphone-based microscopes, blood analyzers, cytometers, allergen detectors, pathogen bacteria detectors, urine sensors, and diagnostic test readers, among others.”

The other upside is that smartphone-friendly devices will likely be relatively cheap; as is the case with the albumin tester, the most expensive part of the process is buying the smartphone. Oczan estimates that a commercially produced version of his albumin tester could sell for $50 to $100. It's a small price to pay to monitor your kidneys without ever setting foot in a hospital.

“Such a smart-phone based testing tool, combined with a simple sample preparation step, could be valuable for early screening of kidney disease or for monitoring of chronic patients suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and/or cardiovascular diseases,” the researchers concluded.

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