How to Spot Infection in the Body Fast

Kristopher Sturgis

June 23, 2016

3 Min Read
How to Spot Infection in the Body Fast

Researchers from the Wyss Institute develop a new pathogen detection technology that quickly and efficiently reports the presence of infection in the body, even at the earliest stages.

Kristopher Sturgis

The new technology would be a boon for doctors dealing with patients susceptible to infection, as there are no current methods that can quickly detect systemic bloodstream infections that lead to life-threatening sepsis. Donald Ingber, MD, and founding director of the Wyss Institute, says this new diagnostic test could speed up the process of detection by days.

"Most systemic infections are still diagnosed using blood cultures which, unfortunately, often take one to seven days before pathogens are detected," Ingber says. "Only a small number--usually less than 30%--of patients suspected of systemic infection or sepsis even have positive blood cultures. Thus, patients with clinical symptoms suggestive of these types of infections are treated blindly with a wide spectrum of antibiotics."

The diagnostic was designed using a genetically engineered pathogen-binding protein known as FcMBL, created by Ingber and his colleague Michael Super, a senior staff scientist at Weiss and co-leader of the research with Ingber. The FcMBL is used to bind to pathogens and the fragments they release by recognizing carbohydrate molecules on their surface. This new FcMBL-based pathogen detection assay has shown to be both faster and more accurate than any existing diagnostic efforts.

Recently clinics began introducing newer molecular diagnostic tests based on PCR analysis of nucleic acids, but these tests generally also require a culture of pathogens before they can be used with high specificity. Doctors have also relied on biomarkers of inflammation to detect patients with fulminant systemic infections and sepsis, but these biomarkers can often be a symptom of trauma-associated inflammation. Ingber says their new diagnostic assay will help doctors accurately diagnose infection, and subsequently improve patient therapy.

"Our rapid diagnostic could be used to direct therapy and determine the need for further testing using molecular diagnostics in patient populations where the risk of infection is elevated, but detection using these existing inflammation-related biomarkers is ineffective or non-specific," he said.

Concerns continue to grow over superbug infections, especially when it comes to outbreaks spread by medical devices. The timeline of events surrounding deadly superbug outbreaks has sparked a heated debate over the use of antibiotics--something that Ingber says their test will alleviate, as it should limit the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

"We hope that that will be one positive outcome of developing this technology, if it is validated in more extensive future clinical testing," he says. "We would like to improve this assay by both detecting the existence of an infection, and then combining our pre-capture/pathogen concentration step with molecular diagnostic approaches to determine the specific identity of the infectious agent."

As they move forward with their research, the group is confident that this new diagnostic technology will improve detection times, and provide the tools necessary to detect the presence of a broad range of infection-causing pathogens--all in an effort to provide a significant advance to doctors looking to prevent life-threatening infections like sepsis, and improve therapies in clinical settings.  

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed.

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Kristopher Sturgis

Kristopher Sturgis is a freelance contributor to MD+DI.

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