Scientists unveil instant test to banish superbugs

The kit being co-developed by Edinburgh University scientists
The kit being co-developed by Edinburgh University scientists
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SCIENTISTS in the Capital are hoping to stop the spread of hospital superbugs with a life-saving test that diagnoses bacterial infections straight away.

Patients currently have to wait up to two days for ­laboratory screening results to discover if they have the ­potentially deadly bug MRSA.

But the new test, which will be trialled at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, will save valuable time and money with the vital results returned while patients wait.

The “rapid point of care ­testing” works by taking swabs from a wound or sore which are then analysed using a strip with electrical sensors that detect harmful bacteria.

The kit, being developed by Edinburgh University scientists and Swedish giants Mölnlycke Health Care, will mean patients can be isolated immediately, rather than taken to a ward, halting the spread of the deadly infection.

Russell McCraith, managing director of MHC Scotland Ltd at Edinburgh’s 
BioQuarter, said it will revolutionise the MRSA screening process, saving the NHS money and improving patient care.

He explained: “The current technology used is very slow and basically involves taking a sample to a centralised, or even outsourced lab, then growing it on a plate and identifying the bacteria.

“The key benefit with this technology is that testing can take place when the patient is going through the admittance procedure. The swab can be taken, the test can be ­performed and they will get the results quickly so doctors can determine what to do with the patient.

“It will improve the efficiency of the hospital with a better patient flow; they will receive care much more quickly without spreading the infections to other patients in the interim.”

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh devised the technique using swabs taken from patients attending NHS Lothian’s Diabetic Foot Clinic at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Detection of MRSA in these patients is important to prevent the spread of infection, which can lead to the amputation of limbs and increase the risk of mortality.

Dr Till Bachmann, from the University of Edinburgh’s Division of Pathway Medicine, said antibiotic resistance is becoming a pressing issue in modern healthcare, but the years of research had paid off.

He said: “It was a new method of research for me and I was thrilled by the performance of the system. By developing a rapid and cost-effective test, we would know what kind of infection is present straight away, which will improve the chance of success in treating it.”

The development of the test was funded with £2.26 million from economic advancement agency Scottish Enterprise’s Large Scale Research and Development Programme.

It is hoped the technique will eventually be rolled out to GP practices or even in a person’s home.

Eleanor Mitchell, director of commercialisation, Scottish Enterprise, said: “Mölnlycke Health Care’s decision to locate in Scotland is testament to the international reputation of our universities, businesses and skills base.”

MRSA PANEL

METICILLIN-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a type of bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of widely used antibiotics traditionally making it more difficult to treat than other bacterial infections.

Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacteria that is often carried on the skin, inside the nostrils and the throat and can cause mild infections of the skin, such as boils and impetigo.

If it gets into a break in the skin the bacteria can cause life-threatening infections, such as blood poisoning or endocarditis – an infection of the inner lining of the heart. In 2011 there were three patient deaths at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary that were directly caused by the killer bug.