SFU speeds bacterial testing in rural India

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 52, No. 10, December 2010, Page 532 News

Simon Fraser University engineering science researchers, collaborating with two research institutes in India, have created a simple way to treat bacteria-infected newborns in rural India. 

Bacterial testing in rural India is carried out in labs many miles away, so the process of nailing down the correct antibiotic can take days. Working with researchers at Bangalore’s Raman Research Institute and the Centre for Biotechnology at Anna University in Chennai, SFU professor Ash Parame­swaran and a trio of graduate students have developed a class of plastic microfluidic chips that can determine the right antibiotic within a few hours using a simple LED light source.

The process uses a textbook ap­proach called an “antibiogram.” The microfluidic chips contain tiny chambers to hold bacteria samples (from the feces) along with a food mixture containing the antibiotic and a dye material, which the bacteria consume. 

The bacteria consume the food in the presence of the antibiotic and the digestion byproduct can be seen using the fluorescence technique. If the bacteria live in spite of the antibiotic, then that sample glows green. If the antibiotic is effective, then the bacteria die and that sample does not glow. 

There are eight different antibiotics available to address infantile diarrhea in developing countries, and it’s crucial to administer the correct antibiotic for the type of bacteria that have infected the infant.

Currently physicians in rural India must either send the sample to a centralized testing facility, which can take several days, or make an educated judgment and administer an antibiotic cocktail. Both options have serious negative and occasionally fatal consequences.

SFU graduate students Mona Rah­bar and Suman Chhina develop­ed the first set of prototypes, which were tested in labs in India last year. 
The researchers from India visited SFU and spent two weeks working with the graduate students and performing tests using nonpathogenic bacterial strains provided by SFU researcher Fiona Brinkman.

The prototype chips were then tested in India using the real bacterial strains, and the results helped formulate the next generation of chips. The new chips have been sent to India for more detailed testing and may move on to field trial.

. SFU speeds bacterial testing in rural India. BCMJ, Vol. 52, No. 10, December, 2010, Page(s) 532 - News.

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