Test identifies best treatment for respiratory tract infections
An EU-funded project has developed new tests to quickly determine whether a respiratory tract infection is viral or bacterial and whether it shows resistance to antibiotics, helping doctors prescribe the right treatment for patients while curbing the overuse of such life-saving drugs.
Acute respiratory tract infections — including potentially fatal pneumonia — are widespread around the world and often require urgent medical attention. But doctors are frequently at a loss when it comes to quickly determining appropriate treatment, especially in the early stages of such a sickness, due to uncertainty over its cause.
Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and not against viruses. Prescribing antibiotics to patients without knowing whether they need them leads both to unnecessary suffering and unnecessary prescription of antibiotics. Furthermore, bacteria develop resistance to previously life-saving treatments, creating a serious healthcare issue.
That’s where the EU-funded C4L project comes in.
C4L has developed a panel of molecular diagnostic tests to pinpoint in a matter of hours whether a patient’s infection is viral or bacterial and provide physicians with a list of causative pathogens.
Previously, molecular tests were only able to identify one pathogen at a time within a timeframe of several hours, classically one to three. The new multiplex assay system with a microfluidic chip and a reader developed by the C4L project allows for the identification of multiple pathogens along with markers identifying any potential antibiotic resistance, informing doctors on their treatment decision.
The test results allow physicians to move forward with appropriate treatment without losing time and having to do much guesswork — potentially saving lives in the process.
“When it’s a viral infection, you can wait because normally you would cure yourself quite easily,” says C4L’s project coordinator Thierry Leclipteux of Belgian-based Coris BioConcept. “But when it’s a bacterial infection, it’s much more difficult. What is needed today in diagnostic labs, in hospitals, is to very quickly identify the origin of an infection.”
Single sample sheds light
Developed and commercialised by C4L project partner PathoFinder, a Dutch molecular diagnostics company, the multiplex diagnostic tests provide clinicians with a list of one or multiple pathogens present in a patient’s respiratory tract using a single sample.
The tests, already in use in several European labs, also provide data, or markers, on whether the bacteria found show resistance to antibiotics. This means that in the event of a bacterial infection, doctors “do very quickly have a choice for an antibiotic therapy that they know will work,” Leclipteux says.
The analysis allows doctors to avoid the use of antibiotics a patient may not respond to.
“If it doesn’t work, sometimes we have lost two to three days —and sometimes it’s too late,” Leclipteux said.
Innovative chip in progress
Separately but also as part of the C4L project, Leclipteux’s SME Coris BioConcept worked with a lab at IBM in Switzerland to develop a microfluidic chip for detecting respiratory pathogens.
The innovative idea envisions injecting the microfluidic chip — a plastic device containing tiny channels — with a solution containing DNA and RNA extracted from a patient sample and then carrying out a so-called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that would provide key insight into the patient’s condition. The turnaround time is about one hour.
Coris BioConcept is currently assessing whether to move forward with the tool considering various factors, including market competition.