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BYU researchers study urine to detect disease

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Posted at 3:54 PM, Nov 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-16 17:54:47-05

PROVO, Utah -- The best way to cure or at least treat a disease is to catch it early, and a chemistry professor at Brigham Young university has developed a system to do just that when it comes to diseases relating to the urinary tract.

Adam Woolley, a professor in the department of Chemistry at BYU, said they work with tiny things in the field of microfluidics.

“Pull a hair off of your head, that's about a hundred microns in diameter, and our tubes are about, they are about half as wide as a hair," he said.

Woolley said the speed at which molecules pass through those tiny tubes says a lot about a person's health. He and his students have developed a simple, non-evasive system to track those molecules.

So far, they've focused on molecules related to diseases of the urinary tract by looking at nucleic acids like DNA.

"And, in particular, we've been looking at some DNA related to prostate cancer and some DNA that's related to kidney disease,” Woolley said.

The test can detect very low levels of a molecule. The DNA marker it looks for is one-billionth of a percent of the urine sample. A home pregnancy test shows whether or not a particular molecule is present, but this test goes beyond just showing the presence of a molecule by showing its concentration as well.

"The idea is if we can detect these at really low levels then, you know, that might be at a very early stage of the disease where that's just barely beginning to show,” Woolley said.

So far, the BYU team has only worked with lab-made samples and synthetic urine. The next step is to test human samples to see if they can detect the disease in people.

They’ve filed for a patent and have licensed the technology, and now they're working with a company to develop it.

BYU graduate students Debolina Chatterjee and Danielle Mansfield co-authored the study for the journal, "Analytical Methods."