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Lab-on-a-chip could speed up treatment of drug-resistant pneumonia

The emergency treatment of drug-resistant infections with targeted antibiotics is often delayed by the need to identify bacterial strains by growing them in culture first. At this week's AVS 53rd International Symposium & Exhibition in San Francisco, Michael Lochhead, a bioengineer at the Denver biotechnology company Accelr8, described a new lab-on-a-chip that can identify single bacterial cells for the most common cases of drug-resistant pneumonia, cutting down the wait from days to hours. The technology could also help in the development of new drugs.

The constant bombardment by antibiotics and disinfectants has bred strains of super-bugs that only respond to very specific drugs. These super-bugs often lurk in hospitals, where patients with weakened immune systems can pick up obstinate, life-threatening infections such as pneumonia. "When you get pneumonia in the hospital, you're much more likely to get a resistant strain," Lochhead said. "It's an emerging public-health disaster."

The most acute cases are admitted into intensive care units, where doctors have just days, if not hours, to save the patients' lives, Lochhead said. But reliably identifying the bacterial strain that's causing the infection traditionally requires growing the bugs in culture first, a procedure that can take two to three days. Meanwhile, doctors often have no other option than to start stopgap treatments with broad-spectrum antibiotics.

The Accelr8 technology is a "microfluidic" lab-on-a-chip designed to manipulate and analyze bacteria without growing them first. Samples are first washed out of the patient's lungs with saline solution in a procedure called bronchoalveolar lavage. The organisms are then separated, suspended in a specially designed fluid, and pumped into the chip.

Inside the chip, the bacteria flow into several different compartments -- eight in the current version of the chip -- and are made to stick to a bacteria-friendly surf
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Contact: Davide Castelvecchi
dcastelv@aip.org
American Institute of Physics
14-Nov-2006


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