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A new computer program, that can analyse bacterial DNA, may speed up the diagnosis of drug-resistant infections and help better target antibiotics.
The inventors believe this will help in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bugs.
The Mykrobe Predictor software is able to identify bacteria in three minutes by unravelling its DNA code and crosschecking with previous strains to identify matches.
The software has been developed by Dr Zamin Iqbal and his team at the University of Oxford, and works from any computer. Trials in three British hospitals are currently underway. If these go well it could replace the decades-old method of culturing bacteria and adding antibiotics to see which works.
By analysing DNA structure, the Mykrobe Predictor software can identify whether a strain will be resistant to antibiotics. It can also tell if there is a mixture of resistant and non-resistant infection present.
Researchers tested the Predictor software on 4,500 retrospective samples and found it accurately uncovered antibiotic resistance in Staphylococcus Aureus - a strain of which causes MRSA, and in tuberculosis (TB).
In fact, it discovered resistance to five antibiotics in 99% of the Staphylococcus Aureus cases presented, which was just as effective as current methods.
The software currently only deals with TB and MRSA but it will extend to E.coli, pneumonia, gonorrhoea and other STIs in the future.
Currently, identifying bacteria means gathering saliva or blood and culturing it in a laboratory. The culture then needs to mix with antibiotics to see which is effective. TB, for example, is slow-growing and can take months to be properly understood. This new invention will significantly speed up the process.
Antibiotic resistance is a global challenge and a real threat to public health.
Bacteria evolve through changes in their DNA. Some bacteria naturally have resistant elements and when it survives a treatment it breeds and passes on its resistant genetic traits. This creates superbugs that we can't kill. Antibiotics we once relied on to kill infections such as STIs are becoming obsolete through overuse, because the bacteria has evolved to survive.
Stephen Caddick, Director of Innovations at the Wellcome Trust, stated 'We urgently need new diagnostic strategies that allow us to better target antibiotic use, and thereby safeguard the effectiveness of our existing antibiotics, and any new drugs that are developed in future.'
The Mykrobe Predictor will support antibiotic resistance in three ways:
Dr Iqbal claims a barrier to health technology in a NHS setting is the need for powerful computers and experts to interpret the complicated results. The Predictor doesn't require masses of computer power and presents results simply.
A quick response will enable doctors to kill bacteria before it breeds, making life more comfortable for the patient.
Broad spectrum antibiotic use encourages resistance. The Mykrobe Predictor will support the fight against resistant bugs because doctors will quickly be able to target infections with the right antibiotics.
In the battle against antibiotic-resistance, technology like this is sorely needed before treatable commonplace infections such as STIs become incurable and life threatening.