GPs may soon be able to test their patients’ genes to decide whether to prescribe antibiotics, tackling a key problem in the fight against antibiotic resistance. Such a test would give doctors the evidence they need to show patients with viral infections they don’t really need antibiotics – but it first needs to be developed for clinical use.
According to World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is “one of the three greatest threats to human health.” An estimated 400,000 people a year are infected with a resistant strain of bacteria, and 25,000 of these patients die.
One of the main factors contributing to antibiotic resistance is the prescription of treatments for the wrong infections – antibiotics can only be used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Current tests look for the bacteria or viruses directly, but they are notorious for false positives and inconclusive results.
A team at Duke University decided to take a new angle on the problem and ask the body to identify what’s making it sick. Their research shows that looking at a patient’s genes can reveal whether their illness is being caused by bacteria or viruses. Lead researcher Ephraim Tsalik will present the findings in a workshop at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday.
When a patient has a bacterial or viral infection, their immune system launches an attack on the invaders. During such an immune response, certain genes are activated; tracking a patient’s genetic signature can reveal whether the infection is caused by bacteria or viruses.
During a six-year study, the team collected blood samples from more than 300 patients who had symptoms that would indicate a bacterial or viral infection. They analysed the samples to find out which genes were activated in the immune response, and compared the results with the diagnosis of each patient. The patterns they found in the way genes were expressed were different for bacterial and viral infections, with around 90% accuracy. This suggests the new approach could be used successfully to determine whether antibiotics should be prescribed.
[pull_quote_right author=””]…the new approach could be used successfully to determine whether antibiotics should be prescribed.[/pull_quote_right]
The biggest hurdle still remains: turning the approach into a diagnostic test that can be used by the doctors prescribing antibiotics. The FDA has set out questions that should be addressed in the development of a test that looks at a patient’s immune response, rather than the bacteria or viruses. These questions will be discussed in Friday’s workshop.
In the workshop’s discussion document, the FDA notes: “The use of non-microbial biomarkers as indicators of infection offers the promise of significantly improving antibiotic stewardship; however, clinical validation of these assays remains a significant challenge to test developers.” The workshop will bring together people from academia, government, industry and clinical laboratories to discuss how to take this promising research forward.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?