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Jun 8, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Health: researchers create system to detect presence of bacteria in a matter of minutes

Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University have apparently perfected a system that is capable of determining in just 30 minutes if a bacteria is present in a sample – a task which laboratories currently need several days to carry out. Scientists estimate that this innovation could significantly reduce the need for antibiotics.


The era of doctors waiting several days for results from a laboratory before prescribing powerful antibiotics could soon be coming to an end thanks to a new system which provides the results in just a few minutes. The system has been devised by a team at Pennsylvania State University and has been detailed in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" scientific journal. The system has been co-developed by Pak Kin Wong, a professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering, and uses micro-technology to trap bacterial cells which can then be observed under an electronic microscope.


From several days down to 30 minutes


The technique can determine in just 30 minutes if a bacteria is present in the sample under study as well as its sensitivity to medical treatments, by exposing the strain to certain drugs to observe its résistance. If it proves to be resistant, the antibiotics will have no effect in any case.

At the moment, the process takes three to five days in a laboratory. "We currently prescribe antibiotics even without bacteria being present," Pak Kin Wong explained. "It’s over-prescribing. Urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infections, but despite that, over 75% of urine samples sent to clinical microbiology laboratories come back negative. Rapid confirmation of the presence of bacteria (...) would considerably improve the care given to patients."


System available in three years?


As well as being able to detect if bacteria are present, the system can also begin to determine their type by observing the shape of the cells. However, it will not be capable of indicating "what sort of bacteria they are", the researcher explained. "We are taking a complementary molecular approach to be able to classify (the bacteria)."

The professor also added that his team had applied to register a provisional patent and that their system, of which they are hoping to reduce the size so that it can be used by hospitals and medical practices, could be on the market within the next three years.


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