Healthcare Innovation Featured Article

December 17, 2010

Rapid Diagnosis of Walking Pneumonia Could Improve Treatment

In a breakthrough for the diagnosis and treatment of what is commonly called “walking pneumonia” researchers at the University of Georgia announced a technique that provides diagnostic results within minutes compared to current diagnostic tests for pneumonia that typically require several days to produce results.  Availability of such rapid diagnoses could radically improve patient treatment outcomes as well as cutting back on the rate of transmission.

“If you can make a positive identification from a 10-minute test, then appropriate antibiotics can be prescribed, limiting both the consequences in that patient and the likelihood that it will spread to others,” said Duncan Krause, a professor in the department of microbiology at U Georgia and a lead author of the study published in PLoS ONE, in which the new diagnostic methodology is described.

Krause and his colleagues started with an existing technology called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, which works by detecting spectral signatures of a near-infrared laser as it scatters off a biological specimen. They were able to enhance the Raman signal by using silver nanorod arrays to detect tiny M. pneumoniae bacteria in throat swab specimens. The spectral signature of the bacteria from a throat swab is amplified and then analyzed by a computer program. This bacterium is a major cause of respiratory disease in humans and the leading cause of pneumonia in older children and young adults. While infections due to M. pneumoniae are very common, to date they have been very difficult to diagnose with precision.

Krause said the device used for rapid diagnosis can be reduced to a size that could fit in a briefcase, although their testing is currently done only in a laboratory setting. “Our hope is that when we begin to explore the capabilities of this technology, it can be applied in point-of-care testing,” he added. “Then the impact becomes truly significant.”

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation and the Georgia Research Alliance.

Dr. Cronin is a Professor of Management in the Information Systems Department at Boston College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Monda


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