A Cheaper, Faster, and Reliable Way to Detect Staph Infections in Under an Hour

Chances are you won't know you've have a staph infection until the test results come in, days after the symptoms first appear. But what if your physician could identify the infection much more quickly and without having to take a biopsy and ship it off for analysis? Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) may have found a way to do this. The team has created a noninvasive chemical probe that detects a common species of staph bacteria in the body. The probe ingeniously takes advantage of staph's propensity to slash and tear at DNA, activating a beacon of sorts that lets doctors know where the bacteria are wreaking havoc. "We've come up with a new way to detect staph bacteria that takes less time than current diagnostic approaches," says Dr. James McNamara, assistant professor in internal medicine at the UI and the corresponding author of the paper published online on February 2, 2014 in Nature Medicine. "It builds on technology that's been around a long time, but with an important twist that allows our probe to be more specific and to last longer." The UI-developed probe targets Staphylococcus aureus, a species of staph bacteria common in hospitals and found in the general public as well. The bacteria causes skin infections, can spread to the joints and bones and can be fatal, particularly to those with weakened immune systems. "Every year in the U.S., half a million people become infected by S. aureusbacteria, and 20,000 of those who become infected die," adds Dr. Frank Hernandez, a post-doctoral researcher at the UI and first author on the paper.
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