Universal biosensor takes the guesswork out of diagnosis

The growing problem of antibiotic resistance can at last be tackled. The US pharmaceutical company Abbott has developed the PLEX-ID universal biosensor ; a device capable of identifying all bacteria, viruses and fungi known to cause infectious disease in humans, including previously unidentified microbes.

Tests suggest the PLEX-ID universal biosensor is more accurate than the standard method of identification. The standard method involves growing the offending pathogen in a dish and then identifying it by its shape and characteristics, which can take time and be subject to human error. Doctors are often forced to prescibe an antiobotic without first having a positive identification of the microbe causing the disease or infection.

The PLEX-ID combines and adapts two existing techniques. Microbe samples from fluids such as saliva and blood are processed to isolate the genetic material. Regions of this DNA are selected according to their likely origin and copied. From this, the composition of base pairs A, G, C and T – can be calculated. Cross-checking base pair compositions for multiple DNA regions against a database of genetic “fingerprints” of known microbes reveals the bug’s identity. A repeatedly blank result suggests the microbe is new, and one whose profile matches some DNA regions but not all implies that a known microbe has mutated

The universal biosensor can currently identify microbes in 8 hours. If the smaller version of the device, currently in development, can do so within 5 hours as planned, it could allow doctors to postpone treatment until they have an accurate diagnosis. Rapid and accurate identification of pathogens could help decrease morbidity and also help stall the increase in antibiotic resistant pathogens.

EVERY day, doctors prescribe antibiotics based on an educated guess about which bugs are causing the symptoms they see before them. Sometimes they guess wrong and it can take days or even weeks for tests to identify the true culprits. In the meantime, people are taking ineffective drugs, which contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

PLEX-ID has been used for research purposes for several years, with early work focused on identifying potential biological warfare agents. In 2003, an earlier model correctly identified a new kind of coronavirus as the cause of SARS, and six years later, it was used to identify the first two cases of H1N1 swine flu in the US.

Mark Wilcox at the University of Leeds in the UK, a member of one of several independent groups evaluating the device for clinical use said that in most cases, taking ineffective antibiotics while waiting for a definitive diagnosis doesn’t harm people, because their immune systems fight the bugs anyway. It could however, be fatal for those with impaired immunity.

Wilcox presented preliminary findings from his group’s analysis at a Society for Applied Microbiology meeting in London last month. They found that PLEX-ID outperformed a culture-based approach in identifying the bacterial and fungal pathogens in 250 human tissue and fluid samples. Other tests suggested that the device is also more sensitive than sequencing small regions of the genome to identify the microbe.

Sourced from New Scientist


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