(U-WIRE) OVIEDO, Fla. – Researchers think they have found a way to shorten the time it takes to identify a bacterial infection.
Using nanotechnology and gold particles coated with sugar, the University of Central Florida scientists believe they can determine which bacteria have infected a patient and which antibiotic is best suited to treat the infection.
The process is not yet FDA approved, but if it’s used, it could save medical examiners money and improve the quality of patient treatment, said Dr. Manuel Perez, an assistant professor at the NanoScience Technology Center.
Perez has worked at the center for three years. He worked on the study along with post-doctoral fellow Sudip Nath and graduate student Charalambos Kaittanis, finding an alternative way for doctors to test patient infections.
Perez said the most common procedure that medical examiners use to identify bacterial infections is to microscopically observe the pattern of the bacteria’s growth, a process called a culture. But, he said, cultures can take days to complete and often require large samples of bacteria, which can be cumbersome for doctors.
“By the time you get the result,” Perez said, “the patient might be sicker.”
He said using nanotechnology could significantly reduce the waiting period, while still producing accurate results.
The nanotechnology study observed the behavior of a small sample of bacteria as they ate away the sugar coating surrounding gold particles laced with an antibiotic. Bacteria that are growing need to eat, and the things they like to munch on most are sugars and carbohydrates. The bacteria bind with the gold particles and can be identified based on their reaction to the antibiotic, Perez said.
Methods other than cultures, such as those involving DNA testing and fluorescent detectors, can be used to identify bacterial infections, but Perez said that the methods are costly and time-consuming. Using nanotechnology would save doctors and pharmaceutical companies money because most offices already have the materials necessary, Perez said.
“The only thing they need to get is the gold metal particles,” he said.
Dr. Michael Deichen, associate medical director of UCF Health Services, said that sometimes it is necessary to do a culture that can take up to two or three days to yield a result. For example, he said, cultures for tuberculosis can take four to six weeks to determine the strain and the appropriate antibiotic needed for treatment.
To keep the patient from getting sicker while the doctors wait for results, they often prescribe multiple antibiotics in order to treat all the different symptoms, Deichen said.
Perez said his approach reduces the need for the medicines that cover all the bases. This is something that would be a tremendous benefit to both the patient and the doctors if the study is accurate, Deichen said.
“If it was a test that was truly rapid and truly sensitive, we could start with the right antibiotic,” he said.
Another dilemma that doctors face in treating infections, Deichen said, is that more and more conditions have antibiotic resistance, such as the MRSA staph infection or certain strands of tuberculosis.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that nearly nine million people are infected with tuberculosis worldwide, and each year, almost two million people die from the infection. In 2006, there were 1,038 cases of tuberculosis in Florida.
In 2007, Perez watched the news reports of Andrew Speaker, who was quarantined after a trip overseas. Doctors believed Speaker had a contagious strain of tuberculosis that was extensively drug-resistant. He was released weeks later when doctors found that his strain was only moderately resistant to antibiotics.
Perez said this happened while the nanoscience study was being conducted. He said he looked to his fellow researchers and said, “We better finish this paper. It’s timely, and people need it.”
He said that Speaker was not diagnosed promptly because the tests used to diagnose him were not fast enough and not reliable enough. Perez wants to change that.
“We hope our technique will be faster,” he said. “In epidemics, time is of the essence.”
Debra Reinhart, interim director of the NanoScience Technology Center, said this kind of research will help the economic development of the university.
“The researchers do some amazing things that haven’t been possible before,” she said.
Perez said he is interested in applying nanotechnology to cancer studies, too.
These kinds of studies are important to everyone because, he said, “We all get sick with a cold or something.”