Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Can 'smart toilets' be the next health data wellspring?

14.11.2019

Wearable, smart technologies are transforming the ability to monitor and improve health, but a decidedly low-tech commodity -- the humble toilet -- may have potential to outperform them all.

That's the conclusion of a team of metabolism scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research, who are working to put the tremendous range of metabolic health information contained in urine to work for personalized medicine.


This graphic illustrates how an integrated "smart toilet" system might work as a real-time method of monitoring health. While the application may be years away, proof of principle is being developed in the lab of Professor Joshua Coon.

Credit: Dasom (Somi) Hwang,Joshua Coon Lab at the UW-Madison Department of Biomolecular Chemistry

Urine contains a virtual liquid history of an individual's nutritional habits, exercise, medication use, sleep patterns and other lifestyle choices. Urine also contains metabolic links to more than 600 human conditions, including some of the major killers such as cancer, diabetes and kidney disease.

The team has two essential questions. First, can frequent monitoring and testing of urine samples glean useful real-time information about an individual's health? And second, can a technology platform be adapted to toilets that can make the collection process simple, accurate and affordable?

They received some promising answers to the first question in a small pilot study conducted this year, the results of which were published in the November 11 issue of the journal Nature Digital Medicine. Two research subjects consistently collected all urine samples over a 10-day period, submitted those samples for tests with both gas chromatography and mass spectrometry for a complete readout of metabolic signatures.

The two subjects also happen to be lead authors on the paper: Joshua Coon, the Thomas and Margaret Pyle Chair at the Morgridge Institute and UW-Madison professor of biomolecular chemistry and chemistry; and Ian Miller, data scientist with the Coon Research Group. Collectively they provided 110 samples over the 10-day period, and also used wearable technology to track heart rates and steps, calorie consumption and sleep patterns.

The results? The samples do indeed contain a remarkable health fingerprint that follows the ebbs and flows of daily life. For example, the subjects kept records of coffee and alcohol consumption, and the biomarkers with a known connection to both those drinks were abundantly measured. One subject took acetaminophen, which was measured in urine by a spike in ion intensity. The metabolic outputs from exercise and sleep also could be measured with precision.

The next step: The Coon Research Group is designing a toilet that will incorporate a portable mass spectrometer that can recognize the individual and process samples across a variety of subjects. They plan to install the toilet in their research building and expand the user group to a dozen or more subjects. Coon says the design is "a bit Rube Goldberg-like" but functional.

"We know in the lab we can make these measurements," says Coon. "And we're pretty sure we can design a toilet that could sample urine. I think the real challenge is we're going to have to invest in the engineering to make this instrument simple enough and cheap enough. That's where this will either go far or not happen at all."

While the pilot experiment didn't examine health questions, many possibilities exist. For example, testing could show how an individual metabolizes certain types of prescription drugs, in ways that could be healthy or dangerous. Also, as the population gets older with more stay-at-home care, urine tests would indicate whether medications are being taken properly and having their intended effect.

Coon also believes the "smart toilet" concept could have major population health implications, not unlike the National Institutes of Health "All of Us" human genome database. "If you had tens of thousands of users and you could correlate that data with health and lifestyle, you could then start to have real diagnostic capabilities," he says. It might provide early warning of viral or bacterial outbreaks.

Coon, who runs the National Center for Quantitative Biology of Complex Systems, says the idea of meta-scale urine testing has intrigued him for some time. "Josh mentioned this at a group meeting one time and it was met with laughter," Miller recalls. "I thought, you know, I kind of like the idea. I already track a lot this stuff in my everyday life."

Adds Coon: "So we went out and bought a couple coolers and started collecting."

While the mass spec small molecule analyses are being done on $300,000 machines, Coon says that portable mass spec technologies exist at a tenth of that cost. He says that with a market this massive, they could eventually hit a reasonable cost threshold.

"Almost every automobile on the road is more complicated than that portable mass spectrometer," he says.

Media Contact

Brian Mattmiller
bmattmiller@morgridge.org
608-316-4332

https://morgridge.org

Brian Mattmiller | EurekAlert!
Further information:
https://morgridge.org/story/can-smart-toilets-be-the-next-health-data-wellspring/

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Illinois team develops first of a kind in-vitro 3D neural tissue model
11.12.2019 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

nachricht Safer viruses for vaccine research and diagnosis
11.12.2019 | University of Queensland

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Highly charged ion paves the way towards new physics

In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.

Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...

Im Focus: Ultrafast stimulated emission microscopy of single nanocrystals in Science

The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.

Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...

Im Focus: How to induce magnetism in graphene

Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...

Im Focus: Electronic map reveals 'rules of the road' in superconductor

Band structure map exposes iron selenide's enigmatic electronic signature

Using a clever technique that causes unruly crystals of iron selenide to snap into alignment, Rice University physicists have drawn a detailed map that reveals...

Im Focus: Developing a digital twin

University of Texas and MIT researchers create virtual UAVs that can predict vehicle health, enable autonomous decision-making

In the not too distant future, we can expect to see our skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages, maybe even people, from location...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

The Future of Work

03.12.2019 | Event News

First International Conference on Agrophotovoltaics in August 2020

15.11.2019 | Event News

Laser Symposium on Electromobility in Aachen: trends for the mobility revolution

15.11.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Self-driving microrobots

11.12.2019 | Materials Sciences

Innovation boost for “learning factory”: European research project “SemI40” generates path-breaking findings

11.12.2019 | Information Technology

Molecular milk mayonnaise: How mouthfeel and microscopic properties are related in mayonnaise

11.12.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>