Non-invasive device instantly diagnoses urinary tract infections

A wireless, credit-card sized optical device shows promise for diagnosing lower urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially in children, the elderly and people with neurological conditions.

Babak Shadgan and his colleagues were able to diagnose UTI in 12 pediatric patients using the device, which sends near-infrared beams of light to measure tissue oxygenation in the bladder wall.

By comparing these results with measurements from patients’ thigh as a control site, researchers were able to determine when infections were present. The research was recently outlined in the Journal of Pediatric Urology.

“When the measurement over the bladder is significantly higher than the measurement on the control site, it may indicate the bladder is inflamed,” said Shadgan, who is also a researcher with ICORD and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

The procedure is very different from the standard method of diagnosis, which involves collecting urine and testing it for the presence of bacteria — a costly procedure that can take up to 72 hours for definitive results, and that is not always practical in young children or patients with spinal cord injury.
Dr. Babak Shadgan.

Dr. Babak Shadgan.

UTIs, while common across all age groups, can cause serious complications if left untreated, including kidney damage and sepsis. Children, the elderly, and those with neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries, are particularly at risk.

“The hallmark sign of a urinary tract infection in adults is painful urination,” said Shadgan. “People with spinal cord injury, and children may not present with the typical symptoms of UTI. One of the leading causes of reduced quality of life among persons with spinal cord injury is urinary tract infection, and in some cases it can result in serious infections and renal failure.”

Larger clinical trials are required to investigate the accuracy and sensitivity of the method. Shadgan is currently testing his method to screen for UTIs in people with spinal cord injury in a study lead by Dr. Mark Nigro, a clinical professor in the UBC department of urologic sciences, at the Brenda and David McLean Integrated Spine Clinic at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre. The research team hopes to one day equip at-risk patients with handheld devices for daily self-screening.


This work was funded in part by the Rick Hansen Institute, the UBC Urology Foundation, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Researchers, and supported by the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) research centre.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children

– UTIs in young children can indicate urinary tract abnormalities and may be associated with life-threatening sepsis in newborns.

– UTIs are the most common bacterial infection in children under two years of age.

– Delayed treatment of a UTI may lead to renal (kidney) scarring.

– In infants up to three months of age, UTIs affect 7.5 per cent of girls, 2.4 per cent of circumcised males and 10 per cent of uncircumcised males who present with a fever.

UTIs in people with spinal cord injuries (SCI):

– Urinary tract infection is the most common urological complication in people with SCI.

– Sepsis, frequently caused by UTIs, is a leading cause of mortality among patients with SCI.

Other individuals at higher risk of UTIs include the elderly, people with diabetes and pregnant women.

Find other stories about: Centre for International Collaborations on Research Discoveries (ICORD), Dr. Babak Shadgan, ICORD-Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, Journal of Pediatric Urology, lower urinary tract infections, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Researchers, Rick Hansen Institute, UBC Urology Foundation, UTIs

Jessica Werb
UBC Public Affairs
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Heather Amos
UBC Public Affairs
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