Humans today are obsessed with measuring health data — we purchase expensive wearables to count our steps, track macros in a spreadsheet, and strap on heart rate monitors before going out on a jog.
But multiple times a day, we’re unwittingly and without a thought disposing of one of the richest sources of health data — quite literally, flushing it down the drain.
Brothers Michael and Brian Bender are working on a product that employs the technique of urine analysis to measure a whole host of health factors: assessing biomarkets, dietary deficiencies, and even helping to diagnose chronic disease.
“I realized, just from my own personal experience, that I never knew what my own dietary levels were or if I had deficiencies,” Brian tells Hypepotamus. “But I didn’t really want to start taking blood tests all the time.”
At the time, Brian was doing research for his PhD in biomedical engineering at UCLA, focusing on preventative medicine — getting to the root of the problem before the individual actually feels sick. He learned that dietary intake was a major, sometimes the main, cause in many debilitating chronic diseases.
At the same time, he began investigating how urine analysis could measure a whole host of biomarkers quite well. The biological fluid actually contains about 3,000 biomarkers.
“We’re able at various levels to identify calories, sugar, protein, carbohydrates, folic acid, riboflavin, vitamin C,” says Brian’s co-founder and brother Michael, a technologist who joined in on Brian’s research in 2016 when he decided to go at the endeavor full-time. An engineer and technologist with a business background, Michael had been an entrepreneur for over a decade when he teamed up with his brother.
The brothers formed a company, Intake, focused on developing an at-home, easy-to-use urine analysis test that could provide actionable and useful results to help people attain better health.
The concept revolves around a sensor that passively sits in the user’s toilet, just below the bowl. Every time the individual, well, goes, it takes a sample, analyzes the many biomarkers in the information-rich fluid, and transmits that information via the cloud back to a secure software platform.
“How do we help give people the info they need and close the feedback loop between diet and health? That’s what we’re focusing on,” Michael explains.
The startup has been funded entirely by the brothers and a series of government grants, most-recently with two Phase 1 Small business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the federal government. They also received NIH funding specifically to develop a sodium testing component of the sensor (as high sodium consumption has been shown to directly link to cardiovascular and other chronic disease).
Last month, they began an accelerator program with NC RIoT, an Internet of Things-focused organization located in Intake’s hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
The brothers hope to initially go to market by calibrating the sensors to identify chronic disease levels for things like chronic kidney disease. While approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population suffers from CKD, this “silent disease” generally has no symptoms in its early stages.
“That same measurement [for CKD] has some correlation in usefulness for assessing cardiovascular disease risk as well,” says Michael. “We’re also looking at urinary glucose, which is great for early detection of diabetes.”
“Most of these conditions don’t show any symptoms, most people that have them don’t even know,” he says. “And yet it’s a very larger portion of our population, with a much larger proportion at risk of it. We’re trying to send data to the people that know what to do with it.”
And since Intake’s sensor will allow samples to be measured often (in theory, every time you ‘gotta go’), the biomarkers that diagnose these conditions can be much more regularly measured than if you had to wait to go to the doctor for blood tests.
“This is very valuable for understanding the progression of the disease. So if you’re undergoing treatment or even just changing your diet, if that number is going down you can see that your condition is improving,” says Michael.
The brothers are working to get a pilot going in partnership with a health system later this year, targeting next year for full commercialization. They believe that they will not need FDA approval for this initial testing, though they may seek it later.
Eventually, the test could become as granular as showing how many and what kind of calories a person ate recently, whether they need to change their diet, or whether they have specific vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.
“Rather than flushing away perfectly good health data, let’s use that data for health purposes,” says Michael.