New swab could detect MRSA before it takes hold

Instant test could help prevent spread of infection in wounds and lesions

Scientists have made a breakthrough in infection control after developing a test that can show if wounds or lesions have been contaminated with potentially-lethal bugs such as MRSA.

Researchers at Edinburgh University perfected the process using swabs taken from patients with diabetic foot ulcers attending a clinic at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Detection of MRSA in these patients is vital to prevent the spread of infection, which in diabetics can lead to the amputation of limbs and increase the risk of death.

The test works by taking swabs from a wound or sore and then analysing the sample using a strip containing electrical sensors that can detect MRSA.

Currently MRSA swabbing results can take up to a day or longer and it is hoped this new test will make them instantly available. The increased sensitivity will also allow the tests to be performed in GP practices and in patients’ homes. This would enable the prescribing of antibiotics and any other necessary interventions at the earliest possible stage.

Dr Till Bachman from the university’s division of pathway medicine presented the research behind the test at the Advances in Biodetection and Biosensors Conference last week.

He said: “Current tests for MRSA tend to be expensive and not very fast. By developing a rapid and cost-effective test, we would know what kind of infection is present straight away, which will improve the chance of success in treating it.”

The researchers are using similar technology to monitor signals that bacteria send to each other when spreading infection and the chemicals that patients produce that indicate the wound’s response to these infecting pathogens. Understanding why these processes take place will help them to identify the start of an infection and so treat it more promptly.

The development of the test was funded with a £2.26m grant from the Scottish Enterprise’s research and development programme.