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'Smartphones may help combat antimicrobial resistance'

Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria are posing a severe threat to global public health. In particular, they are becoming more common in bacterial pathogens responsible for high-mortality diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and sepsis.


Scientists have developed an automated diagnostic test reader for antimicrobial resistance using a smartphone

Los Angeles: Scientists have developed an automated diagnostic test reader for antimicrobial resistance using a smartphone, an advance that may lead to routine testing for antimicrobial susceptibility in areas with limited resources.

Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria are posing a severe threat to global public health. In particular, they are becoming more common in bacterial pathogens responsible for high-mortality diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and sepsis.

Researchers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US developed a simple and inexpensive smartphone attachment that can conduct automated antimicrobial susceptibility testing.

"This work is extremely important and timely, given that drug-resistant bacteria are increasingly becoming a global threat rendering many of our first-line antibiotics ineffective," said Aydogan Ozcan, from the UCLA.

"Our new smartphone-based technology can help put laboratory-quality testing into much wider adoption, especially in resource-limited regions," said Ozcan.

The device connects to a smartphone and has a plate that can hold up to 96 wells for testing.

An array of LEDs illuminates the sample and then the phone's camera is used to sense small changes in light transmission of each well containing a different dose selected from a panel of antibiotics.

Images are sent to a server to automatically perform antimicrobial susceptibility testing and the results are returned to the smartphone in about one minute.

The researchers then tested the device in clinical settings at UCLA. They used special plates prepared with 17 different antibiotics targeting Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bacteria containing highly resistant antimicrobial profiles.

During the clinical tests, they used 78 samples from patients. Their results showed that the mobile-phone-based reader meets the FDA-defined criteria for laboratory testing, with a detection accuracy of 98.2 per cent.

The lowest concentration of antibiotic that prevented the growth of bacteria is used to track drug resistance.

A criterion ? that is susceptible to antibiotics or resistant to them ? is assigned to each bacteria/drug combination in order to guide the physician in treatment decisions.

A susceptible result indicates that the organisms that have infected the patient should respond to therapy, while a resistant organism will not be inhibited by the concentrations of antibiotic achieved with normal dosages used for that drug.

"This mobile reader could eliminate the need for trained diagnosticians to perform antimicrobial susceptibility testing, reduce the cost barrier for routine testing, and assist in tracking of bacterial resistance globally," said Omai Garner, assistant professor at UCLA. 

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