May 23, 2019 | Updated: 11:35 AM EDT

New Medical Device Determines Bacteria Presence Within Minutes

May 12, 2019 10:56 AM EDT

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officer in charge of microbiology, holds a Petri dish that contains Escherichia coli bacteria
(Photo : Airman 1st Class Jason Couillard)
officer in charge of microbiology, holds a Petri dish that contains Escherichia coli bacteria

Perhaps one of the most unsettling current medical practice is prescribing powerful antibiotics while the patients wait for lab reports. Soon, this will no longer be a problem. A group of scientists from Penn State University has invented a new device that can return results within minutes. This means that lab reports will not take several days as opposed to the current situation.

Pak Kin Wong, a professor of Medical Engineering and Mechanical Department in the university, co-developed the device. By employing microtechnology, the device traps single bacteria cells. The last part of the process is using an electron microscope to view the trapped cells.

This new process would allow clinicians to determine whether bacteria are present in their sample in as little as 30 minutes. It would then be easier to prescribe medication as physicians would be able to determine whether the bacteria present is Susceptible to drug treatment.

This eliminates the need to wait for 3 to 5 days for lab work results to come through.

Wong pointed out that physicians currently prescribed antibiotics even when there is no bacteria present, which is over prescription. In their study, one of the questions that the group wanted to answer is how quickly they can determine the existence of a bacterial infection.

In their paper, the researchers stated that in addition to being able to detect whether bacteria presence, another test that their device can perform is to classify the type of bacteria. The device will detect whether the cells are rod shaped, spiral, or spherical - which are basic appearances that can be used to distinguish one type of bacteria from another.

Wong points out that while the device can determine the existence of bacteria and the type it belongs to, it won't be able to ID the species, just yet. However, the team is currently working on this feature.

After the device finds the bacteria present in the sample, it will then be exposed to antibiotics which will determine whether the strain of bacteria is resistant to certain drug treatments. The newly invented device would be able to tell whether an antibiotic intervention would prove effective or ineffective.

Citing an example, Wong pointed out that urinary tract infections are the most common of infections caused by bacteria. However, around 75% of the urine specimen sent to the clinical microbiology laboratory yields negative results.

The researcher stated that the purpose of the device to come up with results in just as little time as possible would dramatically enhance patient care.

The team is working to scale down the device in size so that it can be used in doctors offices and hospitals. They have also applied for a provisional patent for the new medical equipment. They hope to bring their works to the market within three years.

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