Scientists create new test that can tell doctors in just 45 minutes whether a patient is battling a superbug or one that may respond to antibiotics

A test that can tell whether bacteria is resistant to antibiotics in just 45 minutes has been created by scientists.

Currently available tests take ‘up to two days’ to determine whether an infection can fight off some types of drugs.

The new method, developed by experts at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, was tested on staphylococcus aureus and MRSA.

MRSA is a type of staphylococcus aureus. However, it is resistant to several drugs, including methicillin and penicillin, making it harder to treat.

Doctors hope the test could allow doctors to dish out the correct treatment more quickly by identifying if an infection is drug resistant.

Currently available tests take ‘up to two days’ to determine whether an infection can fight off some types of the drugs +1

Currently available tests take ‘up to two days’ to determine whether an infection can fight off some types of the drugs

The study, published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, comes amid the ever-growing threat of superbugs.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is deemed to be one of the biggest threats facing humanity, alongside climate change and terrorism.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections – but it is estimated this will dramatically increase in the next few decades.

The test contains a sensor, which acts like a mini Petri-dish that is coated with an antibiotic to test whether the bacteria can grow in its presence.

Lead author Dr Stuart Hannah said the rapid detection means doctors could quickly spot whether the patient has a bacterial or viral infection.

This would then allow doctors to make sure the correct antibiotic is prescribed, or stop them from unnecessarily dishing out antibiotics, which are useless against viruses such as influenza.

Bacteria can become resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily.

Dr Hannah said: ‘There is a small difference between what makes an organism susceptible to an antibiotic and what makes it resistant.

‘In real terms, we were able to distinguish between the two strains in less than 45 minutes, which is a significant improvement on the current gold standard of up to two days.’

He added that antibiotic resistance is less likely to develop if you give a narrower spectrum antibiotic.

It is now hoped the test could eventually be used by pharmacists and other points of care, as well as being developed for commercial use.

Dr Hannah suggested all the materials used ‘can be mass manufactured, which means that it is cheap to produce a working test’.

He added that, ‘with the right commercial backing’, a future device could be used at a GP surgery or even on an intensive care ward.

Critically-ill patients are ‘quite rightly’ given a broad spectrum antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin and levofloaxcin, Dr Hannah said.

‘We would hope that the test can be located at the bedside and that it will allow doctors to switch from a broad spectrum agent to the right drug quite quickly.’

Dr David Alcorn, also involved the study published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, said: ‘Being able to quickly diagnose an infection is a great enough ability.

‘But to be able to also detect AMR (antimicrobial resistance) within such a short period of time could prove to be a wonderful tool.

‘It means vital diagnostic information could be provided for clinicians across intensive care units, operating theatres, and emergency departments, to enable them to give the right drug at the right time.’

Figures estimate about a third of the population carry S. aureus, and that up to three per cent harbour MRSA.

24 October 2019

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