Electrochemical sensor could detect bacteria in wounds within seconds

The sensor actually detects a molecule produced by a common bacterium(Credit: Shutterstock)

Ordinarily, if doctors want to know if a patient's wound is infected, the process takes 24 hours. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong in that amount of time. Thanks to a new process developed at Washington DC's George Washington University, however, wound infections could soon be detected in less than a minute.

As things currently stand, doctors must take a sample from a wound, then leave it in a petri dish for a day to see if any bacterial cultures form. In the meantime, if there is an infection, it goes untreated.

One option is to administer broad-spectrum antibiotics anyway, before getting the lab results back. If it turns out that there's no infection, however, then the medication is wasted, patients may be needlessly subjected to side effects, and bacterial resistance to the antibiotics is bolstered.

Instead, a team led by Dr. Victoria Shanugam has been using a cheap, disposable electrochemical sensor to find harmful bacteria in wounds within seconds. More specifically, the researchers are using the device to detect pyocyanin, a molecule produced by the Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria which is commonly found in chronic wounds.

In tests so far, the sensor has successfully detected the presence of the bacterium 71 percent of the time, while accurately detecting its absence 57 percent of the time. It is hoped that as the technology is developed further, those rates will significantly improve.

"Being able to detect Pseudomonas and other infectious organisms at the time of the clinic visit will greatly enhance our ability to take care of patients," says Shanugam. "We would not have to wait for culture results before making a decision about antibiotics, and this would allow us to better tailor therapies for our patients."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration.

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