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Sensor Quickly Detects Bacteria in Wounds

Victoria Shanmugam

Victoria Shanmugam and colleague (George Washington University)

5 February 2016. An engineering and medical research team developed a miniaturized sensor that detects the presence of dangerous bacteria in wounds in less than a minute. Researchers led by Victoria Shanmugam of George Washington University’s medical school and engineering professor Edgar Goluch at Northeastern University published their findings in a recent (27 January) issue of the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration; paid subscription required.

Shanmugam, Goluch, and colleagues are seeking a faster way of determining the presence of bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa that can infect patients with wounds in hospitals and clinics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says patients with wounds from surgery or from burns, and those on breathing machines or with catheters, are potentially at risk for serious, life-threatening infections from these bacteria.

Current diagnostic methods, say the authors, need 24 hours to get results. And even newer molecular or biochemical techniques require an incubation period of several hours to produce enough cells for testing. Faster detection methods, says Shanmugam in a university statement, would improve outcomes for patients with chronic wounds. “We would not have to wait for culture results before making a decision about antibiotics,” she notes, “and this would allow us to better tailor therapies for our patients.”

Goluch’s lab at Northeastern University in Boston developed the miniaturized sensor that detects the presence of pyocyanin, a metabolite produced by Pseudomonas bacteria. Pyocyanin is called a quorum-sensing molecule that sends identifying signals indicating the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria. Goluch and colleagues are designing microfluidic, or lab-on-a-chip, sensors that detect quorum-sensing molecules with a combination of electronic and chemical methods.

The research team in this study took samples of fluid from wounds of individuals taking part in Wound Etiology and Healing or WeHeal project being conducted by Shanmugam’s lab in Washington, D.C. The WeHeal study aims to uncover interactions among the immune system, microbial colonies, and pain in healing chronic wounds.

The sensor, say the authors, requires samples of only 7.5 microliters and takes less than 1 minute to complete its analysis. The samples are taken directly from the patients, without any preparation. The results from the sensor in the study were then checked against ribosomal RNA sequencing, that tracks protein synthesis from cells to determine as well the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria.

The results show the device correctly identified the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria 71 percent of the time, and correctly revealed the absence of that bacteria in 57 percent of the cases. The authors say further development of the sensor can enable clinicians to identify infection earlier, making it possible to use more targeted rather than broad-spectrum antibiotics.

“Through this ongoing collaboration with Dr. Goluch’s team of engineers,” adds Shanmugam,  “we plan to continue to refine this testing method and hope to scale it up for detection of other bacteria and to optimize it for clinical use.”

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