Researchers have discovered a way to test bacteria for drug resistance more rapidly. It’s a potentially life-saving method that will enable doctors to find and attack bacterial infections quickly, instead of waiting for a day or more to find out to which drugs a patient might be resistant. More than 2 million people develop drug-resistant infections every year, according toScientific American, and 23,000 people die from those infections, due in part to an inability to diagnose and treat the infections quickly and effectively. The current method for testing bacteria for resistance is to “take a sample from the wound, blood, or urine” and expose it to a variety of drugs. It typically takes 16 to 20 hours to grow the bacteria and test it.
New engineering innovations are working to sidestep the need to grow the bacteria, speeding up the diagnostic process as a whole. Researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea took a novel approach that involves observing how the structure of individual bacterial cells changes in response to such antibiotic exposure, and only takes three to four hours. This rapid test could help clinicians to identify the best antibiotic more quickly, and switch patients over to the correct treatment course,” the study’s lead author Sunghoon Kwon wrote in an email to Salon.com.
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According to the Center for Disease Control, antibiotic resistance occurs when “commercial antibiotics kill good bacteria that protect the body from infection alongside bacteria that cause illness—setting the stage for drug-resistant bacteria to flourish and take over.” The new method could be a step in the right direction, according to Stuart Levy, the director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University. “The ability to determine changes in the structure of the single cell makes this unique among rapid-type analyses and it is an optimistic sign that this could be the beginning of a new area of study,” Levy said.
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