Medical

Fast electronic test determines if bacteria are antibiotic-resistant

Fast electronic test determine...
Postdoctoral researcher Abdelrhman Mohamed (right) observes as graduate student Gretchen Tibbitts uses an electronic probe to measure bacterial electrochemical signals
Postdoctoral researcher Abdelrhman Mohamed (right) observes as graduate student Gretchen Tibbitts uses an electronic probe to measure bacterial electrochemical signals
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The technique has been tested on Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria
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The technique has been tested on Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria
Postdoctoral researcher Abdelrhman Mohamed (right) observes as graduate student Gretchen Tibbitts uses an electronic probe to measure bacterial electrochemical signals
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Postdoctoral researcher Abdelrhman Mohamed (right) observes as graduate student Gretchen Tibbitts uses an electronic probe to measure bacterial electrochemical signals

If a patient is infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it's crucial that doctors are aware of the fact as soon as possible. There's where a recently-developed test is intended to come in, as it can detect such microbes in under 90 minutes.

Ordinarily, in order to determine if an infectious bacteria is resistant to certain antibiotics, cultures of that bacteria have to be grown and tested in a lab. The process can take two days or longer, during which time the patient may be getting treated with antibiotics that are later found to be ineffective.

Seeking a speedier alternative, scientists at Washington State University have developed a technique in which an electronic probe is used to measure the electrochemical signal produced by bacteria as they metabolize and breathe. If a bacterial sample is exposed to a given antibiotic, and that signal continues to be emitted, it means that the medication failed to kill the microbes.

Doctors can then test other antibiotics, or pursue other treatments – and they can do so within less than an hour and a half of beginning the first test.

The technique has been tested on Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria
The technique has been tested on Acinetobacter baumannii, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria

Although researchers have previously tried to perform such measurements, they were foiled by the fact that most bacteria are incapable of transferring electrons directly to an electrode. The Washington State team addressed this problem by utilizing a chemical "mediator" that shuttles electrons from the surface of the bacteria to the electronic probe, where they can be detected.

The technology has already been successfully tested on four common types of infection-causing bacteria, which were exposed to four different antibiotics. Plans now call for the system to be developed further and commercialized, with hopes that it may ultimately be able to deliver results within a matter of minutes.

"It’s really exciting to be involved in a project that not only is valuable from a scientific view but is something that has commercial and industrial applications that could potentially someday actually improve people’s lives," says graduate student Gretchen Tibbits, co-lead author of a paper on the research.

That paper was recently published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Source: Washington State University

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