A cheap new diagnostic test developed by researchers at UC Berkeley promises to effectively identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria in just minutes from a urine sample. The test is currently being commercialized with a view on rolling it out into hospital and clinical settings as soon as possible.

"Drug-resistant infections are a silent pandemic that actually kill more people every year than Zika or Ebola," says Lee Riley, a researcher working on the project. "The faster you can start the right drug, the better the chances of survival or avoiding complications."

The simple, yet incredibly clever test works by detecting molecules called beta-lactamases in urine samples. These are specific enzymes produced by antibiotic-resistant bacteria to counter the lethal effects of an antibiotic.

Tests to detect beta-lactamases are not new, but in the past they have not been sensitive enough to function as a quick or easy diagnostic tool because beta-lactamases are generally found in such low concentrations that it can take days to evaluate samples in a lab. The UC Berkeley innovation combines the activity of two enzymes than can amplify the signal of beta-lactamases by an astounding factor of 40,000.

The test, called DETECT, only needs a small urine sample and can identify the presence of beta-lactamases in just minutes, signaling a patient's bacterial infection as being effectively antibiotic-resistant. Early testing with patients suffering from urinary tract infections revealed almost one quarter as harboring antibiotic-resistant infections. Not only does this new test allow doctors to identify those patients that immediately need higher-end antibiotics but it also allows doctors to avoid unnecessarily prescribing those newer antibiotics.

"DETECT tells you not only who has antibiotic-resistant infections but also tells you who could be treated by early-generation antibiotics, allowing you to spare higher-end antibiotics and slow the spread of drug resistance," says Niren Murthy, another researcher working on the project.

Tara deBoer, a UC Berkeley researcher also on the project, has co-founded a company called BioAmp Diagnostics, with the goal of developing commercial diagnostic tests that can be deployed in a number of different clinical settings.

"Everybody has different needs in the hospital," says deBoer. "Right now we have a lot of designs, but what we are doing is allowing the intended use to define what the design is going to look like."

Another focus for future development is to expand the test's efficacy from just generally detecting the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to actually being able to identify specific strains of bacteria.

Take a closer look at the development of the new test in the video below.

The new test is described in the journal ChemBioChem.

Source: UC Berkeley