【Lin Chia-nan / Staff reporter】A team of researchers at National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) yesterday unveiled a photo-electrical device for quickly testing urea concentration in cats, which can help detect kidney disease in felines at an early stage.
NCTU department of photonics professor Zan Hsiao-wen (冉曉雯) said that she has two cats, aged nine and 18, and that the younger one has kidney disease.
The hassle of visiting a veterinarian motivated her to design the quick-test device, she told a news conference at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taipei.
Kidney disease is the most common chronic disease in cats older than 10, and is usually diagnosed via blood or urine tests, which cost at least NT$600 per test, in addition to other costs, said Kaohsiung-based Jong-Shing Animal Hospital vice president Huang Ming-ju (黃明如), who offered clinical advice to the team.
To detect kidney problems in cats, the team developed a device called “Dual Optical Fiber Reaction Tank” to test urine collected from a cat’s litter, as it is easier to collect than a separate urine sample, Zan said.
The detection process involves separating the urine from the litter in a reaction tank and using an acid-based solution to test the samples, Zan added.
The urine-containing solution influences optical and electrical currents that can be detected by a sensor attached to the device, she added.
The color of the solution deepens as the urea concentration increases, reducing the light that reaches the light sensor and weakening electrical currents, she said.
Cats with urea concentrations of lower than 400 millimoles might have kidney problems, as the kidneys cannot efficiently discharge urea, Zan said, adding that the device can produce test results in five minutes.
By comparison, a blood test for kidney disease can take up to an hour and kidney disease can only be confirmed after up to three months of clinical observation, Huang said.
The team used the device to test urine samples from 10 cats provided by the animal hospital, Zan said, adding that it only provides quick testing and is not intended to replace precise diagnoses by veterinarians.
As the team has only experimented with cat’s litter made of beans and wood materials, more research is needed for other materials, she added.
While other instruments for blood and urine testing can cost hundreds of thousands of New Taiwan dollars, the team’s device would only cost several thousand NT dollars, Zan said, urging businesses interested in the device to help commercialize it.
The team hopes to develop a smaller portable device with the same functionality by working with long-term collaborator Olivier Soppera of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, she said.