NutraCast: Sonia Grego, PhD, on Smart Sampling Toilet technology

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

NutraCast: Sonia Grego, PhD, on Smart Sampling Toilet technology

Related tags Artificial intelligence Machine learning gastrointestinal health Gut microbiome Ibs

A smart toilet that uses artificial intelligence is making a splash at Duke University. The tool, which is under development, can be retrofitted within the pipes of an existing toilet to help analyze stool. The new technology could assist in managing chronic gastrointestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

“The question was posed ‘is there health data in this solid waste that we could capture before it goes to the drain?’ and the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’” ​said Sonia Grego, PhD, founding director of the Duke Smart Toilet Lab.  “Our goal is to capture health data from stool that would otherwise be flushed down the toilet.  We have developed a technology that operates as a ‘flush and forget.’  So the user uses the toilet without changing their routine and does not experience any difference. The wastewater containing the stool is then imaged and analyzed, so that information that is valuable to diagnosis and management of GI diseases can be obtained.”

To develop the artificial intelligence image analysis tool for the Smart Toilet, researchers analyzed 3,328 unique stool images found online or provided by research participants. All images were reviewed and annotated by gastroenterologists according to the Bristol Stool Scale, a common clinical tool for classifying stool. Using a deep learning algorithm that can analyze images, researchers found that the algorithm accurately classified the stool form 85% of the time and gross blood detection was accurate 76% of the time. 

“I've spoken with with experts of nutrition about this technology and about the kind of studies they conduct and it was very interesting to hear that they do not collect many stools, although their intervention is nutrition,”​ explained Grego, who added that most patients prefer to get jabbed with a needle over submitting a stool sample. 

“So, such is the aversion in dealing with the specimen, the most direct readout of nutrition intervention, is overlooked by research, just because you never get the specimen.” 

While the prototype has promising feasibility, Grego said the Smart Toilet is not yet available to the public. Researchers are developing additional features of the technology to include stool specimen sampling for biochemical marker analysis that will provide highly specific data to meet patients’ and gastroenterologists’ needs. 

Duke University supported the research behind the tool, while Grego co-founded the company that commercialized the smart toilet. This year, Grego, along with team members Brian Stoner and Geoff Ginsburg launched Coprata Inc.​ to commercialize the Smart Sampling Toilet technology. Coprata is latin for ‘data from feces.’ 

“We thought long and hard about the name,”​ said Grego.

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