The idea of going to the doctor’s office with symptoms of illness and leaving with a scientifically proven diagnosis is much closer to reality thanks to new technology developed by researchers at McMaster University.
Engineering, biochemistry, and medical researchers across campus have combined their skills to create a portable, rapid bacterial infection test that delivers accurate, reliable results in less than an hour without sending samples to a laboratory.
Your proof-of-concept research published in the journal Natural chemistry, specifically describes the effectiveness of the test in diagnosing urinary tract infections from real clinical specimens. Researchers are adapting the test to detect other forms of bacteria and quickly diagnose viruses, including COVID-19. They also plan to test its viability for the detection of cancer markers.
“It means patients can get better treatment, get faster results, and avoid serious complications. It can also avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics, which can buy us time in the fight against antimicrobial resistance, ”says Leyla Soleymani, the article’s co-corresponding author and associate professor of engineering physics.
“This will give doctors the science to support what they already suspect based on their skills and experience,” says co-author Yingfu Li, professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences.
The new DNA-based technology uses a handheld device similar to a blood glucose meter. A microchip analyzes a droplet of body fluid such as blood, urine, or saliva using molecules that can recognize the specific protein signature of an infection. The device, about the size of a USB stick, is connected to a smartphone, which displays the result.
The invention combines the electrochemical technology developed by Soleymani and her team with the biochemical technology developed by Li and his colleague Dingran Chang. They worked with infectious disease clinician Marek Smeija, a professor of medicine who provided samples from real patients, and Todd Hoare, a professor of chemical engineering.
“As scientists, we want to make things possible,” says Li, “we are familiar with various scientific and technical principles, and when you bring them together to help people, it’s a special feeling. The chance to influence society is there the reason we all do this job. “
Existing practice usually requires samples to be sent to laboratories for cultivation, a process that can take days. Providing immediate results to patients can reduce the spread of infection, improve patient quality of life, and simplify the work of busy doctors.
The new technology can distinguish strains of the same bacteria that can be treated with antibiotics from others that are resistant to antibiotics, a crucial distinction that can help combat the growing problem of antibiotic resistance (AMR).
“Clinics identified testing delays as a problem that needed to be addressed,” said Soleymani, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Miniaturized Biomedical Devices. “We wanted to build a system that could give the doctor as much information as possible on the patient’s first visit.”
The researchers are currently testing an adaptation of the same technology for the virus that causes COVID-19 using samples from a Hamilton clinic.
“This technology is very versatile, and we’re getting very close to using the same technology for COVID-19 testing,” says Li, who is also a member of McMaster’s Michael Groote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.
Researchers are examining regulatory approvals and industry partnerships to get the technology up and running as quickly as possible, not just in Canada but around the world, especially where access to laboratory testing is limited or nonexistent.
“I think this technology is a step towards democratizing the diagnosis and management of disease,” says lead author Richa Pandey, a postdoctoral fellow in Soleymani’s lab. “This is a technology that can be used anywhere in the world where testing is required.”
Reference: Pandey R, Chang D, Smieja M, Hoare T, Li Y, Soleymani L. Integration of programmable DNAzymes with electrical readout for fast and culture-free bacterial detection with a portable platform. Nat Chem. 2021. doi: 10.1038 / s41557-021-00718-x
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