Scientists develop device to detect bacteria in minutes, not days

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The era of doctors prescribing patients with strong antibiotics while waiting for lab reports will soon be counted, and the new device will deliver results in minutes instead of days.

It was invented by a team at Penn State University and described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

The device, jointly developed by Pak Kin Wong, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, uses microtechnology to capture single bacterial cells that can then be viewed under an electronic microscope.

This approach allows physicians to determine in 30 minutes whether the bacterium is present and whether it is susceptible to drug treatment, as opposed to three to five days currently being performed in the laboratory.

“We currently prescribe antibiotics even when there is no bacteria present,” Wong told AFP.

“That is over prescription. That is one of things we tried to express. Can we quickly determine the existence of bacterial infection?”

The researchers’ paper said that in addition to being able to detect whether bacteria is present, the device can begin to classify the type by determining whether the cells are spherical, rod-shaped, or spiral.

“This device determines the existence, but not the type of bacteria,” Wong said. “What we’re working on is a complementary molecular approach such that we can ID the species.”

After the bacteria are found, the sample is exposed to antibiotics to determine if the strain is resistant. In this case, the antibiotic procedure would prove ineffective.

“Urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infection,” Wong said.

“However, more than 75 percent of urine samples sent to the clinical microbiology laboratory are negative, and rapid rejection or confirmation of the presence of bacteria at a clinically relevant concentration will dramatically increase patient care.”

He added that the team had applied for a provisional patent and could bring their device, which they hope to scale down in size so that it can be used in hospitals and doctors’ offices, to market in three years’ time.

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