Graphene-based diagnostic test could diagnose patients in minutes

A world’s first graphene-based diagnostic test could identify patients who need antibiotics in minutes, rather than hours.

Research on the test is a joint venture between Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), Newcastle upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and the universities of Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle.

In the two-year programme, researchers will develop a proof-of-concept test, containing a combination of procalcitonin (PCT) and C-reactive protein (CRP), that identifies whether an infection is viral or bacterial.

PCT is a biomarker produced by healthy individuals in response to certain hormones, which increases during a bacterial infection. PCT levels do not increase, however, in the presence of viral infections due to another protein, called ‘interferon gamma’, blocking its production, meaning high levels of PCT are specific to bacterial infections.

Similarly, CRP is produced by the body when it detects an infection, subsequently marking the bacterial and viral cells as ‘invaders’ for the body’s immune system to destroy. Levels of CRP rise with infection, most significantly by bacteria, but also with other viral and fungal infections.

By combining the measurements of PCT and CRP into one test, doctors have the potential to substantially expedite treatment processes, improve accuracy, and aid in the correct use of antibiotics.

Professor Paul Dark, who leads the Manchester BRC Respiratory Non-fungal Infections Programme, said: “We expect to show that our proposed acute inflammatory marker test will have the capability to deliver accurate results for emergency patient care within a few minutes, from a small sample of blood.

“The accuracy of the test is envisaged to be at least comparable with hospital centralised lab-based immunoassay (antibody) tests which can take hours to provide results back to emergency services.”

If the clinical trials are successful, the hand-held test would give health professionals the ability to identify patients with respiratory infections like pneumonia, who need antibiotic treatment, within 15 minutes – or deliver accurate results for emergency patient care, within a few minutes, from a small sample of blood.

The study will be delivered by a team from MFT’s Diagnostics and Technology Accelerator (DiTA) midway through next year.

Dr Tim Felton, Director of DiTA and an Intensive Care Consultant at Wythenshawe Hospital, which is part of MFT, said: “The main benefit of a single PCT and CRP test, is that a combined test increases confidence in the accuracy of the result when discriminating between bacterial and other infections.”

More information on the new test is available here.

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