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Get a whiff of this: Low-cost sensor can diagnose bacterial infections
Date:4/27/2011

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Bacterial infections really stink. And that could be the key to a fast diagnosis.

Researchers have demonstrated a quick, simple method to identify infectious bacteria by smell using a low-cost array of printed pigments as a chemical sensor. Led by University of Illinois chemistry professor Ken Suslick, the team published its results in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Hospitals have used blood cultures as the standard for identifying blood-borne bacterial infections for more than a century. While there have been some improvements in automating the process, the overall method has remained largely constant. Blood samples are incubated in vials for 24 to 48 hours, when a carbon dioxide sensor in the vials will signal the presence of bacteria. But after a culture is positive, doctors still need to identify which species and strain of bacteria is in the vial, a process that takes up to another day.

"The major problem with the clinical blood culturing is that it takes too long," said Suslick, the Marvin T. Schmidt professor of chemistry, who also is a professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. "In 72 hours they may have diagnosed the problem, but the patient may already have died of sepsis."

While there has been some interest in using sophisticated spectroscopy or genetic methods for clinical diagnosis, Suslick's group focused on another distinctive characteristic: smell. Many experienced microbiologists can identify bacteria based on their aroma. Bacteria emit a complex mixture of chemicals as by-products of their metabolism. Each species of bacteria produces its own unique blend of gases, and even differing strains of the same species will have an aromatic "fingerprint."

An expert in chemical sensing, Suslick previously developed an artificial "nose" that can detect and identify poisonous gases, toxins and
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Contact: Liz Ahlberg
eahlberg@illinois.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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