Babies suffering from life-threatening bacterial infections such as sepsis could benefit from improved treatment, thanks to a ground-breaking study.
For the first time, researchers have been able to detect and decode a signal generated from a baby's DNA that can tell doctors whether or not a bacterial infection is present in the bloodstream.
The findings could help develop a test for bacterial infection in newborns, using a single drop of blood.
Immediate detection of such infections, which are a major cause of death among young children, is currently impossible as no simple test exists.
Accurate diagnosis of infection could limit overuse of antibiotics, which can lead to drug resistance.
The University of Edinburgh team has identified a signal consisting of 52 molecular characters like a biological tweet that is specific to bacterial infection.
The researchers, who have spent the past decade trying to unravel the complexities of blood poisoning and its treatment among premature and full-term babies, say that the genome's signal provides critical, immediate information on the infection.
Using blood samples from newborn babies in Edinburgh, the study investigated thousands of signals written in biological code known as messenger RNAs.
Through meticulous code-breaking the scientists were able to decipher with close to 100 per cent accuracy the signals generated by an infant's genome that specifically tell that they are suffering from sepsis.
Diagnosing sepsis in newborns is extremely difficult, as signs of infection, such as a high temperature, may not occur or if they do, they may not be due to an infection.
Currently the most reliable way to detect infection is by detecting the bacteria in the blood but this requires a relatively large volume of blood.
An antibody test cannot be used as it only provides historical information about an infant's illness.
|Contact: Eleanor Cowie|
University of Edinburgh