A collaboration between Istanbul University - Cerrahpasa, Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty and the Arkan Group, which produces diapers, means infections can be found early in children.
“After respiratory infections, urinary tract infections are the most common infection seen in babies and toddlers,” Dr Zeynep Banu Gungor tells TRT World. “It spreads from bacteria from the stool, and is very risky for kids.”
“It is very difficult to diagnose urinary tract infections in children,” her colleague Dr Ozlem Balci Ekmekci adds. “They have a hard time articulating their health problems, and it’s also not easy collecting urine samples from them.”
Balci says urinary tract infections, which can be misdiagnosed, need to be discovered fast, treatment following immediately afterwards. If left untreated for a while, Gungor says, an infection of this kind can cause kidney damage and kidney failure, especially in children around the age of two.
Gungor and Balci are colleagues at Istanbul University - Cerrahpasa, Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty’s Medical Biochemistry department. They have collaborated with Arkan Group’s Pine brand of baby diapers in order to devise a nappy that alerts parents to the presence of a bacterial urinary tract infection in their baby.
Both doctors emphasise that early diagnosis is crucial for childhood urinary tract infections, and that they were glad to be co-developers of a smart diaper that would help in the diagnosis of UTIs.
The university-industry project was a collaboration between Istanbul University - Cerrahpasa and Arkan Group. Balci says the Arkan Group CEO, Ozcan Arkan, was personally invested in the project because of his nephew.
Arkan says his company has been producing diapers for a long time. Five years ago, his nephew, then 5, had a urinary tract infection, and as a result, lost 80 percent function in one of his kidneys. Inspired by this unfortunate example, Arkan, an industrial engineer who was working towards his PhD at Istanbul University’s Quantitative Methods department, wondered if urine, one of the bodily fluids that along with blood is regularly analysed for signs of illness, could be tested in the diaper.
“We started working together with Doctors Gungor and Balci,” Arkan says. “Collaborating with a hospital allows you to test out the product thoroughly beforehand,” he adds.
“After three years of work, Pine Smart, the smart diaper, was out. And about six or seven months ago, we received the Doktorclub Awards,” he says proudly, referring to their “Best R&D/Innovation Application Winner” Award as Arkan Group and Istanbul University - Cerrahpasa, Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty.
“The diaper has seven layers,” Balci explains. “The outermost layer is treated with two different solutions which react with the baby’s urine and form a pink colour on the outside.”
Pink means the child is positive for a urinary tract infection. “We measure the presence of one of the infection parameters, nitrite, and modify and adapt it to the diaper,” Gungor says.
Gungor warns, however, that this is not a magic solution to all UTIs: “Gram negative bacteria produce nitrite but gram positive bacteria and fungi don’t give a positive test result because they don’t produce nitrite.”
Balci, Gungor and Arkan all stress that the smart diaper is not intended to replace doctors and proper medical care, but as an early alarm system for parents so that they can keep tabs on their babies who are pre-verbal and vulnerable.
Arkan says he foresees three types of usage for their new clever mechanism: “One, for ‘normal’ times, one diaper a day for early detection; two, if the child has a fever or is feeling tired, has lost his appetite, or if his urine has a different colour or smell, then Pine Smart for three to four days continuously; and three, if the child has been diagnosed by a medical professional with a urinary tract infection and prescribed antibiotics, then using Pine Smart continuously for a month to find out if the illness has recurred.”
“To put it in simple terms,” Gungor says, “the diaper will help catch nitrite in the child’s urine in his natural habitat, without stress but simply by changing diapers.” She adds that “this will aid correct and early diagnosis and prevent the use of unnecessary antibiotics.”
Pine Smart is sold throughout Turkey in Migros, Macro supermarkets and online vendors such as Hepsiburada, Amazon, N11 and Trendyol. Arkan says that while the price varies, a pack of 20 diapers costs about 60 TL (close to $8), resulting in an average of 3TL per diaper, while regular diapers cost about 1.5-2 TL per diaper.
“We started exporting Pine Smart,” Arkan tells TRT World. “First it was to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, then Azerbaijan, and recently we received a big order from the United States. We are in talks with Germany, too.”
“What we aim, at the end of the day, he says, is to catch the infection early on, and treat it quickly with less antibiotics and help a quick recovery process.”