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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Field tests for bacteria could potentially save lives

    In the midst of battle, decisions have to be made quickly in order to save lives. Technology created by UA bioengineers may make those life-saving decisions a little easier.

    Linda Powers, the Thomas R. Brown chair in Bioengineering, led the research project for an instant field test for microbes or pathogens, which allows for blood, water, air, or surface areas to be tested for potentially harmful bacteria within minutes.

    “”Its faster in those cases where you have a situation that needs immediate attention,”” Powers said. “”If there were ever to be a true crisis where there have been mass injuries then something like this could save a lot of lives.””

    The handheld device uses two kinds of technology. The first involves shining a light on the area, which can detect if the bacteria exist.

    “”(Sometimes) just knowing that they are there is enough, such as in food preparation,”” Powers said. “”But there are some cases where that is not enough.””

    The second kind of technology actually captures the bacteria and can then identify what kind it is.

    Powers said these two technologies together create a handheld device that can be taken out in the field, and is ideal for military situations.

    “”If you’ve got a soldier that’s dying and his buddy’s standing there screaming ‘I’ll give him my blood,’ you can’t do it,”” she said. “”There are laws about testing the blood first to see if there’s something pathogenic in it.””

    Richard Garn, executive officer of the Army ROTC, said he doesn’t know whether this technology would be used in battle.

    “”Soldiers who are HIV positive are un-deployable, their medical records would keep them from being deployed on the battlefield, they’d be put in (other) positions,”” he said.

    It is possible for a soldier to become infected with something after they were deployed, Powers said.

    “”What about the poor guys who are just stationed there,”” she said. “”Just because he doesn’t have it when he goes there doesn’t mean he doesn’t come back with something.””

    Walther Ellis, a research professor in chemical and environmental engineering is also working on this research. He said this technology will be very useful for doctors.

    “”One of the problems with diagnostics right now is that doctors by themselves can’t do very much,”” he said. “”When you have to have a blood specimen taken, the doctor will send it out to another lab. This will allow doctors to do some kind of testing right there in their own offices.””

    Doctors would be able to tell within minutes if a patient had some form a bacterial infection, and they could prescribe antibiotics right then, rather than waiting for results to come back from the lab, Powers said.

    Ellis also mentioned the importance of this technology in the military aspect.

    “”There was a bit of a scandal a few years ago because some British soldiers got infected because they received blood transfusions in the field and the blood had not been tested for various kinds of microbial infections,”” he said. “”We want to develop something that is cheap that you can use in the field. It won’t tell you what it is; but if it’s contaminated, you don’t want it.””

    This type of testing can be used to check water, air quality, or even for mold in buildings.

    “”Mold makes people very sick and it’s just the right size to fit in the small crevices of your lungs,”” he said.

    This technology is not yet being used, because it is still in the developmental stage, Powers said. The contract for the research is being funded by the military.

    These devices wouldn’t be very expensive, and could be available to just about anyone interested in finding contamination, she said.

    “”This is something we would like to see in third world countries to have them be able to deal with some of their problems … so it’s really cheap,”” Powers said. “”That’s where I’d like to see it go in the future.””

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