As antibiotic resistance increases rapidly, infections are becoming more difficult to treat. However, a Purdue professor is fighting this with a new tool that reduces diagnosis time to around 30 minutes.
To identify the medication a patient needs, doctors culture the bacteria causing the infections, a process that currently takes 16 to 24 hours. However, Mohamed Seleem, a professor of microbiology, and Ji-xin Cheng, a former Purdue professor, have created a new method that can decrease the time to around 30 minutes.
“Each bacterium has a fingerprint or an identity,” Seleem said.
This identity consists of the genetic makeup of bacteria that makes the process of identifying it, and the necessary medication, faster than a culture test. Seleem and his team have created a library with the identities of each infection, speeding up identification of the infections a patient has, according to a Purdue press release.
The original study was conducted on one bacterium and one fungus. With a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Health, Seleem and his team hope to expand this study to include a larger number of microorganisms.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt and prevent medication from working against them. Consequently, medications become ineffective and the condition persists. It causes over 23,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance has increased to alarmingly high levels worldwide. A number of infections — like pneumonia, gonorrhea and tuberculosis — are becoming nearly impossible to treat as the antibiotics grow less effective. Without urgent action, the WHO warns that we’re heading for an era where common infections and injuries can kill, just as they could years ago.
Overprescribing is one of the causes of antibiotic resistance, according to the CDC.
“When I went to get treated for a respiratory infection, the doctor took a blood test and then gave me a lot of antibiotics the next day and told me to try it and update him,” said Jiezhong Chang, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.
A week later, his condition worsened, and his doctor gave him one more antibiotic to try.
“This one worked but by then, I was coughing up yellow stuff,” Chang said. “If he had managed to diagnose me right at first, I could have suffered less.”
Another cause of antibiotic resistance is the scarcity in rapid lab tests. Seleem hopes that this method can eventually replace culture tests. Currently, the machine used to conduct this method is large, complex and requires specific skills — which few people possess — to operate, he explained. The machine will need to become more compact and more easily operable in order to become available in labs to use on patients, which will take about five years.