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NIST's Sensor Technique Provides Faster Testing for Antibiotic Susceptibility

OCT 05, 2017 | EINAV KEET
With researchers around the world on the hunt for new ways to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a device that can detect if an antibiotic is effective against a specific pathogen.

Last year a study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with Pew Charitable Trusts noted that at least 30% of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary. Although many of those antibiotics were administered in error for illnesses caused by viruses, CDC health officials also emphasized that to fight antibiotic resistance, it’s important that doctors prescribe the right antibiotic in the right dose when an antibiotic is needed.

To this end, researchers have been developing tools to differentiate between viral and bacterial infections and earlier this year the World Health Organization (WHO) called for new rapid diagnostic tools to quickly identify the cause of infections. Now, in a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from NIST describe a new prototype sensor capable of quickly detecting the antibiotic susceptibility of bacterial pathogens in rapid time.

The new prototype sensor works by using a quartz crystal resonator coated with bacterial cells to detect changes in vibrations when particles on the surface change. The highly sensitive crystals allow researchers to measure changes in cell-generated frequency noise—which correlates with the density of living bacterial cells—created by the bacteria activity in response to exposure to antibiotics.

For example, when testing the device on Escherichia coli bacteria exposed to the antibiotics ampicillin and polymyxin B, the researchers observed a sharp drop in frequency noise within 7 and 15 minutes, respectively, of exposure to the antibiotics, reflecting the speed at which antibiotics begin to work.

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