Microchip test to instantly identify sight-threatening infections

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Southampton doctors and engineers have developed a microchip that could detect dangerous eye infections in minutes, saving sight and helping fight the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs.

Standard eye infection tests can take anywhere between two days to two weeks to give a definitive result, as it takes time to grow and identify microbes from samples in the laboratory and test sensitivity to different antibiotics.

Now electronic engineering and molecular microbiology experts at the University of Southampton have developed a microchip that can analyse infected samples instantly.

By rapidly passing individual bacteria one-by-one between tiny electrodes, they can detect electrical properties specific to dangerous strains of common bacteria such as E. Coli and Pseudomonas.

Preventing antibiotic overuse

Avoiding overuse of antibiotics is a key way to prevent the rise of antibiotic resistant infections, which can’t be treated with standard antibiotics.

A pilot study is due to start in November 2017, involving 30 patients presenting with corneal infections. Aimed at confirming whether the laboratory tests to date translate to the clinic, the study could lead onto larger-scale testing and development for clinical use.

The device works by measuring the electrical signals from the cells flowing through the microchip, and could be used to help fight the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs by avoiding antibiotic prescription where it isn’t needed.

“It could have widespread applications, particularly given the current challenges we face in tackling overuse of antibiotics,” explains Prof Hywel Morgan, Professor of Bioelectronics.

Prize-winning device

The team behind the microchip also hope to trial the test in other countries, through Southampton General Hospital’s eye unit overseas programme.

Kenya’s Lighthouse eye hospital and the Christian Medical College in India are being explored as possible sites, where rapid detection could make the difference between losing sight or not for people with limited access to the right treatments.

The device has been recently awarded the prestigious Founders cup prize for research innovation at the 101st Oxford Ophthalmological Congress and could transform the speed and accuracy of care given to patients globally.

Posted on Wednesday 22 November 2017