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Scientists have figured out an ingenious new use for fidget spinners

Fidget spinners, the craze that swept the world a few years back, are great for distracting you from your work. But, according to researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, they may be great for something else as well: Diagnosing urinary tract infections.

These infections, which can cause a strong urge to urinate and a burning sensation when you pee, are currently diagnosed by a doctor or nurse. While the diagnosis can be performed quickly in many places, in rural parts of the world the process can take around one week — which includes healthcare visits, antibiotic prescription, shipping urine samples to a lab, culturing bacteria, and more.

This new fidget spinner approach, which does not require expert oversight and can be determined by the naked eye, takes advantage of the centrifugal force of the fidget spinner to separate bacteria in urine when it is loaded into the device. The process reveals the presence of bacterial cells after a dye is added. A diagnosis can be made with just a couple of spins, with the overall process lasting just 45 minutes.

“We designed the device to be used in the places where electricity is not readily available,” Yoon-Kyoung Cho, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “No electricity means many things that we take [for] granted, such as a refrigerator or skilled nurses, are not available.”

Cho said that the team has been working on centrifugal microfluidic devices for years. Some of their creations, such as fully automated on-disc operations for pathogen DNA detection or liquid biopsy circulating biomarkers from blood samples, are currently used for research in clinical settings. However, none of these previous approaches have worked in settings where no electricity is available.

The urinary tract infection-assessing fidget spinner was recently tried on 39 people with suspected cases of bladder infections. The researchers found that it gave similar results to standard issue laboratory tests, thereby proving its efficacy.

“[We] plan to commercialize [this] so that it can be actually used in the settings where the needs are,” Cho said. “We have previous experience of commercialization [for the microfluidic devices mentioned]. Therefore, it should not take too long.”

A paper describing the work, “A fidget spinner for point-of-care diagnostics,” was recently published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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