Scientists at UC Berkeley are currently working on the second generation of DETECT, a test that could allow doctors to more efficiently prescribe working antibiotics and treatments for urinary tract infections, or UTIs.
The first generation of the test, which was published Oct. 4 in the peer-reviewed journal ChemBioChem, quickly reveals the presence of a specific biomarker associated with multidrug resistance in bacteria, while the second generation is the true diagnostic, according to lead project scientist Tara deBoer.
DeBoer wrote the grant for this idea in 2016 and began working on it with the help of other researchers, including postdoctoral researcher Nicole Tarlton, epidemiology and infectious diseases professor Lee Riley and bioengineering professor Niren Murthy. They are part of the Consortium for Research on Antimicrobial Resistant Bacteria, which is dedicated to the project, and are currently working on making modifications to increase the system’s sensitivity and specificity, according to Tarlton.
“By having this collaboration, we are able to create new types of technology that would not have been possible if it were limited to one department or the other,” Riley said. “(It is) a good model for interdepartmental research on campus.”
DeBoer said the researchers are currently focusing their energy on UTI treatment. At the moment, DETECT is a biochemical test — a urine sample is put into a detect solution and if the biomarker is present, the solution changes color. DeBoer said the test will eventually be turned into a simple device.
The test, deBoer said, is unprecedented in how fast it works, how easy it is to implement and the lack of sophisticated instrumentation required to complete it. Without the test, doctors do not immediately know which antibiotic to give a patient and therefore run the risk of prescribing antibiotics that will not work, resulting in the deterioration of patients’ health.
“For most people, it’s not that big of a deal, but for some it can be very dangerous and their diseased state can really progress if they are not identified quickly,” deBoer said.
Riley, whose lab provides facilities for the microbiology work and the clinical samples, said the test can save lives and prevent many complications. He added that when patients take the wrong drug, it can increase the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria.
The technology has the potential to be applied to other infectious diseases because it is an amplification platform that can be tuned to detect different mechanisms and bacterias, Tarlton said. DeBoer and Tarlton founded the company BioAmp Diagnostics to turn the test into a real product.
“I think there is real power in making a true diagnostic that is accessible to people all over the world,” deBoer said. “We would love to make tools that could be used by anybody, regardless of their location or their socioeconomic background.”