DNA device sparks hopes for faster treatment of urinary tract infections

Professor David Livermore, an expert in medical microbiology from the Norwich Medical School at the

Professor David Livermore, an expert in medical microbiology from the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia. - Credit: Archant

Urinary tract infections could be treated more quickly and efficiently by using a DNA sequencing device which is the size of a USB stick, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia.

Their findings are unveiled today at an international four-day medical conference in San Diego, USA.

Professor David Livermore, from the university's Norwich Medical School, said: 'Urinary tract infections are among the most common reasons for prescribing antibiotics.

'These 'ascending' UTIs cause a growing burden of hospitalisations, mostly of elderly patients.'

Researchers used a new devise called MinION to perform 'nanopore sequencing' (the order of nucleotides on a DNA strand).

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The process characterises bacteria from urine samples four times as quickly as traditional methods of culturing bacteria.

It means doctors can find better use of antibiotics.

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'Antibiotics are vital, especially if bacteria has entered the bloodstream, and must be given urgently,' Professor Livermore said.

'But unfortunately it takes two days to grow the bacteria in the lab and test which antibiotics kill them.'

Therefore doctors must prescribe a broad range of antibiotics and adjust treatment subject to the patient's tests.

'This means that some patients are over-treated,' Professor Livermore said.

'But it also means that a growing number of patients with bacteria which is resistant even to a broad range of drugs, go undertreated.

'Sometimes this can be fatal.'

He said the way forward was to 'accelerate laboratory investigation' to ensure the patient was given the most effective antibiotic.

MinION can detect bacteria in heavily infected urine and provide the bacteria's DNA sequence in just 12 hours - four times faster than the current process.

The instrument was developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

Have you had difficulties with antibiotics?

Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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