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This diagnostic tool uses DNA sequencing to identify any infection

When doctors have to diagnose a virus or infection within a patient, usually they have to order all kinds of diagnostic tests. That’s because each one is only designed to hunt for just one specific virus, bacteria, or other pathogens in one specific type of sample, such as blood or urine. To greatly simplify things, scientists at UC San Francisco say they have developed a simple diagnostic tool that can search any type of sample for the DNA of known pathogens and deliver results within as few as six hours.

The one and done diagnostic test starts by sequencing all of the DNA present in a sample, whether it be human, viral, bacterial, or fungal, by using a known technique called metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS). After that, a software program searches all of the DNA, looking for matches from a database of every known pathogen. Once a match is made, the doctor knows what kind of pathogen has infected a patient.

Researcher Charles Chiu says the doctor would still need to choose whatever type of sample is most likely to house the pathogen (e.g., lung fluid for a patient with signs of pneumonia), but they wouldn’t have to worry about using a diagnostic test designed to work with that specific type of sample.

“The advance here is that we can detect any infection from any body fluid, without special handling or processing for each distinct body fluid,” Chiu said in a press release. “It’s a simple procedure.”

It’s hard to understate the potential of this diagnostic tool: by providing more timely diagnoses for infections, doctors will be able to treat patients faster and more accurately. The researchers are currently working toward getting FDA approval for their diagnostic test. If that occurs, healthcare will take a giant leap into the future.

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