Scientists, including one of Indian origin, are developing a new device that can quickly identify bacterial infections, an advance that may help fight antibiotic resistance by reducing unnecessary prescription of drugs. The tool, designed by the researchers at University of Sheffield in the UK, could help doctors make more informed prescriptions and reduce the number of patients with viral infections being prescribed antibiotics.
The device could enable patients with flu-like symptoms to give a small blood sample and be promptly told whether they have a bacterial or non-bacterial infection and be treated accordingly. The diagnostic tool uses genetically engineered bacteria to detect the presence of a bacterial infection in a patient’s blood sample.
It can distinguish between a viral and bacterial infection by detecting a protein known as lipocalin. This protein is produced in high levels by cells of the immune system in response to bacterial infections. The protein’s function is to bind to small molecules
which bacteria use to access iron in order to grow. Researchers are developing the device so that genetically modified bacteria mixes with a patient’s blood sample and turn florescent when there are low levels of the lipocalin protein – indicating a viral not bacterial infection.
“The main aim behind this project is to create more informed prescriptions to address the ever increasing resistance against antibiotics that we face today,” said Saylee Jangam, a student from the University of Sheffield. “Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem and this is why we chose to base our project on it. We may not be able to reverse it, but with our device, we could potentially slow it down,” she said.
“What is even more interesting is that we are using genetically engineered bacteria to detect the presence of bacterial infections in blood – that is right – using bacteria to detect bacteria,” she added.