Thanks to the overuse of antibiotics and the intelligence of microorganism evolution, antibiotic-resistant pathogens are on the rise. According to the CDC, over 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections arise annually in the US. The cost of this problem is estimated to be around $4.6 billion per year. Whilst we search for new treatments, what can we do to reduce these numbers?
The most vital first step is to carry out quick testing and diagnoses to see if the pathogen has mutated into a resistant strain. Current methods are carried out by smearing some of the microorganism on a petri dish in a lab, then waiting two days to see if it is able to grow in the presence of the antibiotic. This time period is sometimes too long for people with life threatening infections, and by the time the results from the culture based assay have come back, the infection has become impossible to treat.
Researchers from Washington State University have just invented a new more efficient method that dramatically shortens the time it takes to get results to just 90 minutes! They achieved this by tracking changes to the bacteria’s metabolic activity and respiration after adding antibiotics. Measuring the electrochemical activity of these pathogens allows researchers to see if they are still alive and kicking after facing treatment.
This idea had been attempted in the past, though carrying the electrical signal from the bacteria to the probe which measures the signal was challenging. The team overcame this issue by introducing a chemical mediator into the mix, allowing the signal to be shuttled from one part of the testing site to the other.
Something incredible about this treatment is it is universal, with the ability to check any microorganisms’ resistance. The device just needs to be modified for commercial use and tweaked to increase the speed of result readout. Scientists hope that a deeper understanding of the electrical mechanisms at play here can hopefully reduce the wait time to just minutes. When these steps are made, this discovery can be used on the front line to help save lives. The time it saves allows medical practitioners to act accordingly and find the most effective treatment in the age of antibiotic resistance.