New method to determine antibiotic resistance

25 November 2014

Antibiotics are a key part of many surgical procedures and aftercare, but increasing resistance to this group of commonly used drugs is jeopardising their effects. However, a new report describes a method that could quickly determine whether the bacteria behind an infection is resistant or sensitive to antibiotics. This could help and even prevent the growing international problem from getting any worse.

A team from the Uppsala University's Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab), Stockholm, and Uppsala University Hospital has developed a new method that can rapidly diagnose the root cause of an infection. 

Published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, the method would enable the right antibiotic treatment to be used straight away, reducing any wasted drugs and time, according to Professor Dan Andersson of Uppsala University, who led the study with Professor Mats Nilsson of SciLifeLab in Stockholm and Stockholm University.

Many people are dying around the world because the bacteria in infections have mutated to become resistant to treatment. When this happens, 'empirical therapy' is usually delivered, which means the type of antibiotic used is based on the resistance situation of the bacteria in a large population rather than the bacteria in the infected person's body. 

This boosts the use of antibiotics, especially the ones that are regarded as 'broad-spectrum' because they work on a number of types of bacteria. However, having a quick and easy way to identify bacteria would make this process unnecessary as the best, most effective antibiotic would be clear.

Professor Andersson said: "We have developed a new method that permits identification of both the species and the resistance pattern of bacteria in urinary infections in less than four hours. By comparison, the resistance determination done at present takes one to two days."

The method is based on highly sensitive, bacterium-specific measurement of bacterial growth in the absence and presence of various antibiotics. If the bacterium is resistant, which is measured by its ability to increase the number of copies of a specific DNA sequence, it can multiply even when the antibiotic is being used.

Sensitive bacteria, in contrast, will show no growth. The researchers found that the method was able to identify the bacteria and their resistance patterns in all the clinical samples analysed. 

Anja Mezger, the principal author, said that the method is highly specific and sensitive, and can be automated for use in a clinical laboratory. It is also versatile enough to be used for all types of bacteria and antibiotics.

"We hope that the method can be used in the future at hospitals and health centres, so that the right treatment is given promptly, and also so that the use of antibiotics is reduced," said Professor Andersson.

Posted by Edward Bartel


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