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   news News of medicine. 2013 | Archive

New App Turns iPhone into Mobile Urine Test


The new uChek smartphone app was revealed at this year's Technology, Education and Design (TED) conference in Los Angeles, and can be used as an iPhone urine test indicator of 25 different medical conditions like diabetes, urinary tract infections, preeclampsia, kidney and liver problems, and cancers, as well as to assess general health.

The uChek iPhone app was invented by 29-year-old MIT graduate Myshkin Ingawale, co-founder of Biosense Technologies, a company based in Mumbai that specializes in accessible and cheap medical technologies. "We all have two things, cell phones and urine," Ingawale told the chuckling TED audience when presenting the app. "We figured we had to be able to do something with this."

The urine test iPhone app works by combining a standard urinalysis dipstick kit with smartphone technology. First you collect a urine sample in a cup, just as you would at a doctor's office, and dip the paper test strip in the sample for two seconds. Next, slide the urine-soaked strip into a color-coded mat that comes with the uChek pack.

The urinalysis strip contains chemicals that gradually change color if your urine contains high concentrations of substances related to any of the medical conditions. Taking a photo of the urine strip with the uChek smartphone app allows the iPhone to quickly and accurately analyze the image to give a concise reading of your urine sample.

The smartphone app produces easily understood information, with either positive or negative results or more quantitative information that explains what different concentration levels in urine indicate. "The idea is to get people closer to their own information," Ingawale said.

"I want people to better understand what is going on with their bodies." Since the iPhone app color-corrects the images automatically, it reduces the chance of human error in analyzing personal urine test results. It can also monitor trends in urinalysis over time that you can share with a doctor. Urine tests are a basic method of judging the presence of health problems, which is why doctors always ask for a urinalysis when you go for a check-up.

Many chemical indicators of health are released in urine samples, like glucose, proteins, ketones, bilirubin, leukocytes, and nitrites, and the app checks up to 10 of those elements. Ingawale stresses that it is important to see a doctor regularly and get a proper medical opinion, and that uCheck is meant to inform users about health issues, not diagnose disease from urine.

Still, a smartphone app that tests urine could help cut costs by reducing medical visits. According to Wired, more sophisticated urinalysis machines cost up to $10,000 and only read specific types of test strips.

UChek could be especially useful in areas with poor medical coverage, like rural areas and developing nations. Ingawale's own father-in-law, who is diabetic, was an early tester of the Uchek urinalysis app. "My wife is the one who wants the information," said Ingawale.

"She wants to make sure he's taking care of himself. He just takes the test and e-mails her the results." The uChek smartphone app will cost only 99 cents for the iPhone, and another $20 will supply the urine kit which includes a color-coded test map and a pack of urine dipsticks.

The urinalysis application is currently being tested in the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India. It is expected to be available for iPhones in Apple's iOS App Store in March. A version for Android smartphones is in development. No word yet if the uChek app will eventually be able to asses urine for drug or pregnancy tests, but it seems like only a matter of time before smartphones allow those urinalysis functions.

UChek joins a number of other personal healthcare apps that are becoming increasingly popular, which assess health indicators like heart rate and sleep patterns. "Mobile health has immense potential to improve people's lives since it increases patient access to quality healthcare whilst reducing costs," Michael O'Hara, chief marketing officer at the GSMA, told the BBC.

"These positive impacts will only grow as the mobile and health industries collaborate on new connected innovations," he added. Ingawale has a strong commitment to boosting grassroots healthcare.

This year's urinalysis app was preceded by a portable device called ToucHb that Ingawale presented at least year's TED conference. Easy for untrained health workers to use, it screens hemoglobin levels for anemia without drawing blood, and is designed to keep women from dying from anemia.

"The medical device industry operates on proprietary, closed hardware and a recurring revenue business model," Ingawale says. "I am trying to democratize healthcare."

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