Technology

What if Your Toilet Could Detect Cancer?

Posted on 9 June 2020

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario. You wake up one sunny morning and, after a refreshing cup of your preferred caffeinated drink, you head to the toilet. As you sit down to do your business, a camera within the bowl scans your posterior, identifying you based on your unique ‘anal print’. You hear a whirring sound as various gadgets within the toilet take samples and begin to analyse your stool and urine. A few moments pass before a notification appears on your phone, telling you that no anomalies have been found in your deposits. You smile in satisfaction and think to yourself: This is the future. This is the precision health smart toilet.

Humour aside, such a toilet is now a reality – including the part about the camera. A new Stanford study reports that their toilet add-on can detect a variety of diseases, including kidney failure and some cancers, by analysing stool and urine. The device measures 10 different biomarkers, including white blood cell count, consistent blood contamination, certain levels of proteins. This data is then sent to a secure, cloud-based system for safekeeping, potentially making it accessible to health care providers.

The smart toilet would not be the first implementation of continuous health monitoring technology, which includes things like smart watches. But according to Professor Sanjiv Gambhir, whose lab is behind the study, the toilet is uniquely suited to this kind of function:

The thing about a smart toilet, though, is that unlike wearables, you can’t take it off. Everyone uses the bathroom — there’s really no avoiding it — and that enhances its value as a disease-detecting device.

‘Smart toilet’ monitors for signs of disease. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/04/smart-toilet-monitors-for-signs-of-disease.html

The idea of a smart toilet may off-putting to many, however, particularly given that identifying the user is essential for the proposed system to work. The whole point, after all, is to provide individualised health data, which the toilet does with a flush handle that reads fingerprints and a camera that scans the anus (neither you, nor your doctor can see these). Data protection is unsurprisingly a crucial piece of this research, according to Prof. Gambhir.

We have taken rigorous steps to ensure that all the information is de-identified when it’s sent to the cloud and that the information — when sent to health care providers — is protected under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)

‘Smart toilet’ monitors for signs of disease. (2020). Retrieved 9 June 2020, from https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/04/smart-toilet-monitors-for-signs-of-disease.html

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