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19 December 2017

posted Dec 19, 2017, 6:39 AM by Beck Lockwood
Bacteria or virus? New blood test will help GP diagnosis

A prototype blood test that can help doctors distinguish between bacterial and viral infections is being developed by a team of researchers at the University of Leeds, supported by NIHR DEC Leeds.

The test will detect proteins differentially released by the body when infected by bacteria versus virus. Although it won’t help doctors diagnose what type of bacteria are present, it will help them to make important decisions about whether or not to prescribe antibiotic treatment.

Inappropriate use of antibiotics is contributing to the rise of diseases which are antimicrobial resistant – the spread of which is becoming a global crisis. Providing GPs with tools that will help them make accurate, rapid treatment decisions will be an important step in combating this threat.

The test is being developed as part of five-year project, funded through a £3.9m grant from the Antimicrobial Resistance Cross Council Initiative. It draws on expertise from the Faculties of Medicine and HealthEngineering, and Biological Sciences at Leeds. NIHR DEC Leeds has supported the project, ensuring the test will be able to meet the required regulatory standards.

The aim is to produce a portable device which can be used in GP surgeries or at the bedside. It will contain complex sensors to diagnose within 10 minutes whether a patient is suffering from a disease caused by a virus or by bacteria. Currently, similar tests can take many hours and require a blood sample to be sent away for laboratory testing.

Professor Christoph Wälti, of the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, who is leading the project, explains:

“Our talks with GPs and healthcare officials made it clear our device would have to be able to produce a definitive diagnosis in only about 10 to 15 minutes. You cannot expect people to come in one day and then return the next to get their result, especially if you are going to say to the patient that he or she has a virus and there is nothing much you can do for them. Speed is therefore critical. And that pushes the technology to the limit. However, we believe we have overcome those issues.”

Dr Rosie Ferguson, Programme Manager at NIHR DEC Leeds, says: “Resistance is accelerated by various factors, in particular where antibiotics are used when they will not treat the illness – such as viral infections. Developing and implementing rapid diagnostic tools to stop antibiotic misuse is thus a priority. Developing this device with the help of Leeds DEC, means we have an excellent environment for providing necessary validation of the device.”