Fecal Matters: Learning About Health Through Waste

January 10, 2019

The Duke "Smart Toilet" looks to make use of the valuable information about our health that we literally flush away multiple times a day

From Duke MEDx by Alissa Kocer

Researchers Brian Hawkins, Katelyn Sellgren and James Thostenson work together at the Center for WaSH-AID.

Researchers Brian Hawkins, Katelyn Sellgren and James Thostenson work together at the Center for WaSH-AID.

Every day—multiple times a day—we dispose of valuable information about our health without even thinking about it. We simply flush it away. Literally.

Our daily excreta—feces and urine—can tell us a lot about our health, but, so far, testing has been under-developed for precision health monitoring. Part of the problem is the collection process. A newly funded Bass Connections project team is looking to change that. Geoff Ginsburg, director of the Duke Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine and the MEDx Initiative, has partnered with the Duke University Center for Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Infection Disease (WaSH-AID) for the Smart Toilet: A disruptive technology to improve health and wellness Bass Connections project.

The Duke “Smart Toilet,” will enable the hands-free collection and packaging of human excreta to test and monitor wellness and disease. The Smart Toilet is a novel platform with the potential to transform healthcare as it will generate individualized biological data that can be used for early disease detection, surveillance for infectious disease and continuous personalized health and wellness monitoring through apps and digital health wearable devices.

Ginsburg, along with Sonia Grego, Ph.D., and Katelyn Sellgren, Ph.D., both of Electrical and Computer Engineering and WaSH-AID in the Pratt School of Engineering, will lead a team of 6-9 undergraduate students to develop the hands-off collection of biospecimens and evaluate the analytical validity of testing the samples using the Duke Smart Toilet platform. The team will also be tasked with developing a business and regulatory strategy for the device and will have the opportunity to participate in the spectrum of activities involved with product development.

Students will be able to apply to join the team starting January 22. The application deadline is February 15 at 5 P.M.

This project is supported by Bass Connections and the MEDx Initiative. Other team contributors include Brian Stoner, Ph.D., professor, ECE/Pratt and Director for WaSH-AID; Jeff Glass, Ph.D., Professor, ECE/Pratt and Hogg Family Director of Engineering Management and Entrepreneurship; Holly Dressman, Ph.D., Professor, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology/Medicine and Director of the Microbiome Shared Resource; and Douglas Calahan and Eric Levitan, independent consultants and advisers to early-stage businesses.