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Smart toilet could check out the state ‘urine’

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A team of scientists is in the process of developing a “smart toilet” which monitors the contents of a user’s urine to detect health problems.

The scientists - from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research - designed the toilet to include a portable mass spectrometer, which can recognise individuals and process their urine samples.

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

Lead investigators Joshua Coon and Ian Miller collected their urine samples over a 10-day period, which were then submitted for tests with both gas chromatography and mass spectrometry for a complete readout of metabolic signatures.

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. They 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. They also found that metabolic impacts of exercise and sleep could be measured.

“We know in the lab we can make these measurements,” Coon said. “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 did not examine health questions, the team believes that these tests could show how certain types of prescription drugs are metabolised, including detecting potentially dangerous metabolism.

Although these analyses are being carried out on $300,000 machines, portable mass spectrometer technologies exist at a fraction of this price. Coon said that smart toilets containing these tools could reach a reasonable cost threshold if widely adopted (“Almost every automobile on the road is more complicated than that portable mass spectrometer,” he explained). Smart toilets could prove particularly useful as the population ages and requires more stay-at-home care, as urine tests could be used to check that medications are being taken properly and having their intended effect.

Coon and his colleagues plan to install the toilet in their research building and expand the user group to a dozen or more subjects.

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