Bedside Lung Probe Aims to Diagnose Bacterial Infections Rapidly, Cutting Antibiotics Overuse

Bedside Lung Probe Aims to Diagnose Bacterial Infections Rapidly, Cutting Antibiotics Overuse

Scottish researchers are developing fluorescent imaging technology to diagnose pneumonia and other bacterial lung infections within 60 seconds, so patients can receive the right medication quickly.

Scientists hope their Proteus lung probe will reduce the unnecessary use of drugs in intensive-care units, which leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Accurate diagnosis means unnecessary use of antibiotics can be avoided if the patient has no infection.

At the heart of the technology — being developed by the Universities of Edinburgh and Bath and Heriot-Watt University — are chemicals that light up when they attach to certain types of bacteria. Small fiberoptic tubes detect the fluorescence deep inside patients’ lungs.

The London-based Wellcome Trust has donated £2 million (about $2.5 million) to the project, and CARB-X is chipping in £900,000 (about $1.12 million). CARB-X is the largest international initiative aimed at addressing antibiotic resistance, an emerging threat to public health worldwide.

“The rise of antimicrobial resistance is the biggest challenge in modern medicine,” Kev Dhaliwal, senior clinical lecturer in pulmonary molecular imaging at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, said in a news release. “The support and mentorship from CARB-X will accelerate development of Proteus technology to be ready for clinical use faster and more widely than previously possible.”

Partially funded by the U.S. government and led by the Boston University School of Law — along with the Broad Institute of Harvard, MIT, MassBio, the California Life Sciences Institute and RTI International — CARB-X will spend $450 million between now and 2021 to help development novel antibacterial drugs and move them into clinical trials.

“CARB-X is a bold new approach to developing life-saving treatments for antibiotic-resistant infections,” said Kevin Outterson, executive director of CARB-X and a law professor at Boston University. “By accelerating promising research into novel drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, it is our hope that we can speed up the delivery of new effective antibacterials, vaccines and rapid diagnostics to patients who need them.”

At the moment, the initiative’s focus is on patients with lung infections, as well as those suspected of having pneumonia who are in intensive care units and need ventilation to breathe. Each year, nearly 20 million patients require ventilation; about a third may have serious lung infections.

Doctors usually diagnose such infections with blood tests and X-rays. But these can be slow and inaccurate. As a precaution, patients are often treated with antibiotics — yet these can cause unnecessary side effects. In addition, this blanket approach to therapy contributes to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Drug resistant infection is already a huge global health challenge – and it is getting worse,” said Tim Jinks, head of drug resistant infection at Wellcome Trust. “We need global powers to work together on a number of fronts – from the beginning to the end of the drug and diagnostic development pipeline. CARB-X is supporting projects like Proteus to build a robust pipeline of products to fulfil this need.”

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