Chemicals placed in the toilet bowl emit light in the presence of haemoglobin, which can be measured using a device fixed to the toilet rim, essentially turning the toilet into a test tube. The result is a simple and immediate test without the need to handle stool samples.
Testing for blood in stools is the first step in diagnosing a range of bowel problems, from simple infections to cancer. Where blood is detected, patients are then referred for further investigation.
Under the UK’s bowel cancer screening programme, all men and women aged 60-74 are provided with three wooden sticks on which they are expected to collect stool samples on consecutive days, sending these off to the lab to be analysed for the presence of blood. Compliance with the programme is very low, between 55 and 60 percent, due to the reticence people feel towards handling faeces. If diagnosed early, bowel cancer is very treatable, but it currently has the second highest death rate of cancers in the UK.
E&B Devices, a small US-based company created by the innovators of the technology, Eric Wheeldon and Robert Barsotti, was put in touch with the HTC through UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the NIHR Office for Clinical Infrastructure (NOCRI). The company wanted to work with relevant clinicians and specialists in commercialising these types of technologies to help them take their idea forward.
The HTC put E&B Devices into contact with academics within the University of Leeds to conduct laboratory tests to calibrate the technology, ensuring that the sensitivity of the test was not so high as to create false positives.
We also brought in product design specialists, Pd-m International, to work with E&B Devices on improving the user experience of and engagement with the technology. Although E&B Devices originally envisaged the technology as a cancer detection system, Pd-m International saw that it would have a wider market as a bowel healthcare product, usable by patients of all ages, for all kinds of bowel conditions. Given the fear that many feel about cancer, compliance is also likely to be increased by positioning the product as a general health test.
The technology is still in proof of concept stage, with tests ongoing to ensure it will be both reliable and calibrated to the correct sensitivity, so the device only registers when blood is at a level to warrant further investigation.
A number of prototypes are being created to enable more user trials to be undertaken, which will feed into further design and development. A larger trial involving 200-300 patients will then be carried out before the product will be ready for market.