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B.C. researcher develops handheld device to detect UTIs

A B.C. researcher has developed a handheld device that, when placed on a patient’s abdomen, can instantly detect urinary tract infections.

Dr. Babak Shadgan, a sports physician and researcher at the University of B.C., said the device could change the way healthcare professional screen for UTIs, an infection of the urinary tract that is common in women, babies and the elderly.

“It’s a totally novel concept in medicine,” he told Metro. “We hope in the future that this will be a fast and cheaper method for detecting or at least screening people with UTIs.”

Shadgan and his team were recently able to diagnose UTIs in 12 pediatric patients using the technology.

The wireless, credit-card-sized optical device works by sending near-infrared beams of light that measure tissue oxygenation in the bladder wall. Comparing the results with measurements from the patient’s thigh as a control site, researchers are able to determine when infections are present.

“When the bladder is infected, there is a higher amount of blood circulation and oxygenation in the affected site because of the inflammation,” he said. “What we are doing is we try to actually detect this inflammation by using this method non-invasively.”

The current method for detecting UTIs involves analyzing a urine sample in a lab for white blood cells and bacteria, followed by a urine culture.

“That takes time and money,” said Shadgan. “In developing countries, it’s not possible to always have a lab around, so a device like this can be used as a screening tool.”

Still a prototype, the device is in the process of undergoing clinical trials.

If successful, Shadgan said the technology holds promise for patients most at risk of serious complications from UTIs, like children and people with neurologic conditions.

Shadgan said patients with spinal cord injuries might not be able to feel symptoms of a UTI, like pain during urination. If the infection goes untreated, it could lead to renal damage.

“It can be really dangerous,” he said. “Early diagnosis can save the patient and caregivers from a costly, long treatment.”

Erin Cherban, clinical research director for the Rick Hansen Institute, said the device could one day enable people with spinal cord injuries to monitor their bladder health from home.

“If symptoms emerge, along with their primary health care provider, they can take action to prevent a full-blown urinary tract infection or worse, urosepsis thereby eliminating the need for hospitalization,” Cherban said. “It is a win-win situation.”

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