Laser technology shaves time off bacteria turnaround

2013-05-11T06:00:00Z 2013-05-17T13:27:05Z Laser technology shaves time off bacteria turnaroundVanessa Renderman, (219) 933-3244

HAMMOND | Scientists at a local laboratory say a new piece of technology there can identify bacteria a day earlier than traditional methods.

"If it's a blood infection or meningitis, getting that identification as fast as we can can mean the difference between life and death," said Karen Calvert, a microbiologist who works in research and development at PCL Alverno.

The sooner scientists identify what is causing an infection, the sooner a physician can prescribe the appropriate antibiotic to fight it.

About a month ago, technicians at PCL Alverno began using the Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization - Time of Flight, called MALDI-TOF. 

After bacteria sit and grow for a day, a technician swipes a sample on a target plate and adds a reagent. The plate is inserted into the MALDI-TOF, which uses a laser to blast the sample into fragments. A vacuum tube sucks those pieces up, and a detector at the top of the machine measures the speed the bacteria travel, said Jim Clark, microbiology department manager.

The machine compares the results to a library of bacteria.

"It identifies bacteria based on its unique protein fingerprint," Calvert said.

Previous technology, using a biochemical identification method, took up to 48 hours to identify bacteria. The new technology, using a laser target method, will take three or four minutes to identify bacteria after it grows for a day.

The newest wave of technology, which is still in its research phase, will identify bacteria within minutes of the sample being taken, Clark said.

The MALDI-TOF can encourage better stewardship of antibiotic use, which can cut down on antibiotic resistance. Instead of physicians prescribing a general antibiotic to fight an infection, they will know which specific antibiotic will work best, Calvert said.

The Hammond lab serves 26 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois.

The MALDI-TOF has received positive feedback so far from physicians for its quick turnaround time, Clark said.

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