Sound waves and laser beams – the new Perth technique for identifying bacteria and treating infections in an hour instead of days

Thursday, March 9, 2017

On World Kidney Day (March 9) the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth announces that a new-age technique, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is helping Perth patients.

Red blood cell bacteriaPerkins Director Professor Peter Leedman said sound waves and laser beams are being used to test samples from Perth patients to identify precisely which bacteria is causing an infection and which specific antibiotic can treat it and the results are proving to be just as good as traditional methods, but hundreds of times faster.

“Infections are a curse for kidney patients on dialysis because the process risks letting in bacteria.

“When that happens patients are usually given broad spectrum antibiotics while the process of growing the bacteria in the lab gets underway to identify which bacteria is causing the infection and which specific antibiotic will treat it. That usually takes 3-6 days.

“Taking courses of broad spectrum antibiotics has its downsides; it kills good bacteria in our gut and increases the risk of antibiotic resistance and the development of ‘superbugs’.

“At the Perkins our researchers have developed a unique technique, using sound waves to identify infection after sending samples through a tiny channel where lasers identify the bacteria.

“The use of lasers is a fairly new though established technique, but the use of sound waves is entirely new.

“This development means that in one process the right antibiotic can be introduced and we can literally see it killing the bacteria in minutes. 

“In less than an hour the Perkins laboratory can tell a doctor which specific antibiotic to prescribe.

“Any doctor knows the sooner you start the right treatment the better the outcome,” he said.

The Harry Perkins Institute of Medical research work is being further developed in conjunction with PathWest to assess the benefits that may be achieved for patients by comparing samples as they arrive in the lab using the new and old methods. 

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