Urinary tract infections (UTI) are more annoying than they are harmful, yet in some cases, untreated infections can lead to more serious health problems like sepsis. Perhaps if there were a technology that could detect the bacteria that causes UTI, the chances of this happening would lessen. That’s what a team of researchers in Germany and Ireland is working on right now.

Escherichia coli is the most common type of UTI-causing bacteria, but there are other strains such as Proteus mirabilis and Enterococci that can cause infection. Since the current gold standard of bacterial identification is based on time-consuming cultivations, researchers cited, which can take at least 24 hours to identify, treatments are prescribed before doctors know which exact kind of bacteria is responsible for the infection. Researchers reported this contributes to antibiotic-resistance.

So researchers set out to develop new technology that’s faster (process in as little as an hour), inexpensive, easy to use, and has the potential to identify bacteria from “a small raindrop” of urine. It’s called the “Lab-on-a-Disc” platform, and it’s a microfluidic chip that rotates a patient’s urine sample with high velocity so that any bacteria is guided through specific channels called “V-Cup capture units;” then, researchers add Raman spectroscopy.

"Raman spectroscopy uses the way light interacts with matter to produce 'unique scattering,' the equivalent of a molecular fingerprint, which can then be used to identify the types of bacteria present," Ute Neugebauer, group leader at the Jena University Hospital and Leibniz Institute of Technology, said in a press release.

In a pilot study, researchers were able to use the platform to identify two species known to cause UTI, E.coli and Enterococcus faecalis, within an hour and 10 minutes. In fact, the total process, from receiving a patient’s sample to applying Raman spectroscopy, took less than two hours.

“The first 30 minutes of this workflow are devoted to the evacuation of the chip,” researchers explained. “If the chips are stored under vacuum, this time can be saved, reducing the total analysis time to less than 70 minutes. Thus, the so-called ‘golden hour’ for pathogen analysis is nearly achieved using this approach.”

Researchers see their findings as a substantial step forward, and the new device platform, which has so far proved easily adaptable, could greatly benefit general practitioners. The next step is to implement antibiotic susceptibility testing. And then eventually, with any luck, these concepts would be applied to other diagnostic devices using other bodily fluids.

Source: Schroder U-C, et al. Rapid, culture-independent, optical diagnostics of centrifugally captured bacteria from urine samples. Biomicrofluidics. 2015.