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New microchip can detect sight-threatening corneal infections within minutes

Posted: 19/09/2017

Scientists and ophthalmologists have developed a prototype device which is able to measure the properties of a single type of bacterium such as E. coli and pseudomonas at high speed, removing the need to grow cultures in the laboratory or use antibiotic testing, which can take between 48 hours and two weeks to provide results. A pilot study involving 30 patients is planned, including tests in Africa and South Asia.

Corneal infections occur when the cornea is damaged by a foreign object and through the growth of bacteria, fungi, parasites or virus. About 6,000 cases of corneal infection are diagnosed every year, with about a third relating to contact lenses. Many of these infections cause serious, irreparable damage to the cornea, significantly affecting patients’ vision.

Parwez Hossain, a consultant ophthalmologist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, who worked with engineers to develop the microchip, said: “The cornea is only half a millimeter thick and infections can spread rapidly and destroy this structure, so timely treatment is extremely important, but we also have the added complication that treatment can be very different for each type of bacteria present. These findings, although currently laboratory-based, could have deep implications for the detection and treatment of corneal infections as they have the potential to reduce diagnosis time from up to two weeks to only a few minutes — and to deliver the correct antibiotics immediately.”

Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, commented: “Prompt diagnosis of corneal infection is imperative. We act for claimants who due to delays in diagnosis and appropriate treatment of this type of infection have experienced very poor outcomes with life-changing consequences. If this new diagnostic method becomes widely available, it would have important implications for all patients who experience corneal infection. We will continue to follow developments with interest but if you or a family member have any concerns regarding treatment for a corneal infection, or any other ophthalmic management, please contact our specialist team who may be able to assist.”

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