Smartphone-connected device detects infections in less than an hour

Smartphone-connected device detects infections in less than an hour

Presently, if a doctor suspects that a patient has a bacterial infection, that person has to provide a fluid sample that is sent off to a lab for analysis. A new device, however, could allow such samples to be analyzed on the spot, within minutes.

There are three main problems with the analysis of body fluid samples in labs.

For one thing, in the few days that it takes to get a result, any infection that is present could get worse. For another, it’s possible that the doctor may put the patient on antibiotics right away, just in case they are infected – if it turns out that they aren’t, then they will have taken the medication (and endured any side effects) needlessly. Additionally, in remote locations or developing nations, suitably equipped labs may be a long distance away.

It was with such limitations in mind that scientists at Canada’s McMaster University created the prototype device. The tool actually consists of two parts – a two-channel electrical sensor chip, and a USB-stick-like main processing module that the chip is plugged into.

Doctors start by placing a droplet of blood, urine or saliva on the chip. There, DNA enzymes already on the chip react with signature proteins produced by the suspected bacteria – assuming the bacteria are present in the first place, that is. Both the chip and the main module are plugged into a smartphone, where a dedicated app interprets and displays the data in less than an hour.

The technology has already been successfully used to detect harmful E. coli bacteria in urine samples, and is capable of detecting other types of bacteria by utilizing different DNA enzymes. What’s more, it could reportedly also be adapted to detect viral infections, including COVID-19.

“It’s going to mean that patients can get better treatment, faster results and avoid serious complications,” says Assoc. Prof. Leyla Soleymani, co-corresponding author of a paper on the research. “It can also avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics, which is something that can buy us time in the battle against antimicrobial resistance.”

The paper was recently published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Source: McMaster University