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New test identifies antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Technique uses current hospital equipment

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 24 April 2017

New research suggests it is possible to quickly and accurately diagnose drug-resistant bacterial infections using existing hospital equipment.

In a presentation at the 27th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), taking place this week in Vienna, researchers described how they were able to test bacteria to quickly tell whether they were resistant to the antibiotic of last resort, colistin, and how easily they might pass this resistance on to other bacteria. 

Knowing which patients have these most dangerous infections means it is possible to use quarantine measures to halt their spread, say the scientists.

Researchers at South Paris University, France, and Imperial College London, UK, studied Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae — both members of a group of bacteria called Enterobacteriacae that can cause gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, lung diseases, and sepsis.

Previous research has shown two different types of colistin resistance exist in bacteria. Chromosome-encoded resistance can only be passed on when bacteria grow and divide to form new bacteria cells. The other type, called plasmid-encoded resistance, can be passed on to completely different bacteria.

Dr Laurent Dortet, associate professor at South Paris University, France, told the Congress: "This plasmid-encoded resistance is particularly worrying because it has the potential to spread quickly and easily and, if that happens, last resort drugs like colistin could also become obsolete. If, on the other hand, we are able to rapidly identify bacteria that have this type of resistance, we can take measures to stop its spread. This might include isolating the patient in a separate room where they are treated by dedicated medical staff."

The team tested 134 different colonies of bacteria using a mass spectrometer, and found it was possible to distinguish not only between those bacteria that are colistin resistant, and those that are not, but also which bacteria have the more dangerous plasmid-encoded resistance. 

They say the test can be carried out in around 15 minutes and would cost less than one US dollar per sample.

Dr Gerald Larrouy-Maumus from Imperial, explained: "The exciting thing about this technique is that it relies on technology that is already available in most hospitals. This means that it could be rolled out quickly and cheaply, and potentially have a rapid impact on tackling drug-resistance.”

The researchers are now working with Imperial Innovations, Imperial College London's technology transfer office, to patent the technique and develop it for widespread use in hospital laboratories.

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