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Bug Off!

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UTSA experts create a more accurate test to detect patient infections

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Quicker, more accurate testing results could help save lives.
  • Existing methods are slower and require more skilled individuals to conduct.

By Joanna Carver |
Originally Posted 9/01/2018 |
From the Fall/Winter 2018 Issue

A new testing method could show quickly and accurately whether a person has been infected with harmful bacteria or other pathogens, according to a new study from UTSA researchers. Additionally, this new method shows the exact severity of infection in a person. A new study by and describes.

Seeing a need for an easier and more rapid method of testing for infection, Waldemar Gorski, chair of the UTSA’s chemistry department, resolved to test an electrochemical approach. He sought out Stanton McHardy, a medicinal chemist, who is an associate professor of research in chemistry and director of the UTSA Center for Innovative Drug Discovery. Together, they created molecules that bind to leukocyte enzymes and produce an electrical current to signal the presence of an infection.

The most common method of testing for infection in medical facilities is a strip that turns a certain color when infected fluids come into contact with it. “The problem with this method is that it’s imprecise,” Gorski says. “The human eye is forced to judge the level of infection based on the hue and deepness of a color. It’s difficult to make an accurate call based on that.” Furthermore, roughly a third of samples cannot be tested because the fluids contain blood or are too opaque.

“This method could very easily show just how serious an infection is and make diagnosis a much quicker process, possibly preventing a more serious illness.”

Other methods of testing include microbiology or examining body fluid samples under a microscope and counting white blood cells, also known as leukocytes, which are an indicator of an infection. However, these can be slow processes and require highly trained personnel.

The UTSA team’s new molecules are housed on a testing strip. After being in contact with infected bodily fluids, the strip is connected to a computer monitor that displays a clear range of electrochemical responses demonstrating the severity of an infection.

“The signs and symptoms [of illness] people demonstrate aren’t always reflective of the level of the infection they have,” McHardy says. “This method could very easily show just how serious an infection is and make diagnosis a much quicker process, possibly preventing a more serious illness.” Gorski believes the method could be especially useful to people who have just undergone surgery, since it could determine definitively whether they have an infection from the procedure before it worsens.

Gorski and McHardy have filed a patent for their invention, published two papers and plan to work with an engineer to streamline its design.