The Medical Technology Blog

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The European Union has applied EUR 1.67 million from its Sixth Framework Programme (6th FWP) for research programme to help develop an instrument that more quickly identifies the harmful bacteria or fungus that may be lurking in the wounds of burn victims and causing an infection. Such a device would help to speed up the diagnostic and healing process by days.

At present, doctors have had to rely on microbiological tests that take several days to identify which bacteria are responsible for the infection. In contrast, researchers from Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK have been working on a small prototype electronic device, known as the Woundmonitor, which can pinpoint the type of bacteria within a few minutes, by identifying the minute amounts of gas the bacteria are producing. The quicker infections can be diagnosed, the faster patients can be treated, which can in turn lower the cost of lengthy hospital stays.

Most burn injuries occur at home or at work and are more predominant among vulnerable groups such as the elderly or young children. Early diagnosis and treatment of infection in burn patients is critical. However, despite advances in modern medicine, it still takes up to three days for microbiological tests to identify the bacteria present in the wound. Traditionally, medical students were taught to recognise bacterial infections by their characteristic odour. Clinicians and researchers from Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK in the Woundmonitor project used the same approach, but were assisted by the latest information and communication technologies.

The researchers developed an instrument that can identify types of bacteria from the small amount of volatile gases, recognisable by smell, that they emit. The experts first identified the three major types of bacteria: staphylococcus, streptococcus and pseudomonas, which account for about 80 per cent of the bacterial infections found in burns. They then identified the volatile chemicals spread by the bacteria when they multiply. With this information, the team designed an instrument containing eight gas sensors. The pattern of the responses from the sensors represents the characteristics of the chemicals present, by which the bacteria are identified.

This complex , but nimble, instrument has already been tested in a hospital in Manchester, UK, and at a Kaunas regional hospital (Lithuania). Results are said to have been very satisfactory and the researchers have positively assessed the instrument’s risk level. Several commercial companies have also indicated an interest in the instrument and discussions are underway to develop the instrument for commercial use.

The University of Manchester in the UK s co-ordinating the EUR 2.2 million programme, which commenced in January 2006. Other partners in the project include Puslaidininkiu Fizikos Institutas and Kaunas Medical University Hospital (both in Lithuania), CNR-Istituto Nazionale per la Fisica della Materia and Biodiversity (both Italy-based), Umwelt-Systemtechnik (Germany) and the Department of Burns and Plastic Surgery at South Manchester University Hospitals Trust.

Thanks to Lawrence Miller for this post, Lawrence is Espicom‘s medical newsletters team leader, and the managing editor of Medical Industry Week and Diagnostics Focus

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