Wednesday, 17 August 2016

New compact microscope to cut blood poisoning deaths by millions

A group of European scientists have invented a microscope that will allow the fastest ever detection of life-threatening infections caused by bacteria, such as E. coli or Staphylococcus, and conditions such as Meningitis, saving millions of lives every year.

About the size of a small book, the microscope is part of a new platform combining photonics technology, microfluidics and molecular biology, which has the potential to simultaneously detect more than one million biomarkers, the tell-tale signs of diseases such as Sepsis, a potentially fatal whole-body inflammatory reaction caused by severe infection, which kills more than 20,000 people per day worldwide.

Current techniques can take as long as one day to perform a similar test. This new method can produce a result in just 30 minutes.

By sending polarised beams of light through birefringent crystals and a cartridge containing a blood drop and an array of receptors, the system is able to detect the interaction of light with the bacteria or proteins captured by the receptors. The intensity of the transmission image is then analysed to provide the physician with an accurate detection of ‘what’, and ‘how much’ bacteria or proteins are present.

With bacteria currently needing to reproduce in large quantities before an accurate diagnosis can be made, this can mean a patient waiting over 24 hours before all the information is at hand to decide a course of treatment. This new device produces sample-to-result processing times up to 50 times quicker than current methods and with a condition like Sepsis, where time is of the essence, this looks set to usher in a new era of medical diagnosis.

Developed by the, ‘Scalable point-of-care and label free microarray platform for rapid detection of Sepsis’, or ‘RAIS’, the project is coordinated by ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain and is yet another success story for the Photonics Public Private Partnership. Dr Josselin Pello, senior researcher on the project explains,

“Sepsis is one of the top 10 causes of death in the world. It can strike regardless of age, gender or fitness. Doctors need a quick, reliable way of detecting Sepsis and what stage it has reached.” 

“Current methods exist, but they are too slow: they can only look at a couple of parameters at a time and they will not tell the physician what type of bacteria it is that is causing Sepsis. A doctor may not therefore prescribe the correct treatment in time.”

“RAIS can simultaneously examine many biomarkers, such as micro-ribonucleic acids or interleukins, and will let you know the bacteria source much earlier, allowing you to choose the correct treatment sooner”, said Dr Pello.

The financial implications of RAIS are very exciting. According to Dr Cindy Rechner, Clinical Trial Coordinator at Thermo Fisher Scientific,

“Not only can the RAIS device save lives through faster diagnosis of Sepsis but at under €50 per patient for a test it could remarkably reduce the estimated 10 billion Euros spend each year in Europe and the USA on hospital stays and unnecessary drugs.  

With the portable, point-of-care device being easy to use, complete with integrated software, it is thought that not only could this be used in remote areas by junior physicians, but self-diagnosis could be commonplace in the future. 

“Although we are a long way off this, a self-diagnosis kit would certainly help with conditions like meningitis where an early diagnosis could be the difference between life and death”, said Dr Pello.

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