Disposable chip ‘will reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions’

Researchers from the University of Leeds have developed a prototype chip that can quickly determine if a patient has an infection caused by a virus or a bacterium.

This is useful because antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses, and falsely prescribing them increases antibiotic resistance in the population.

The chip, which is the size of a matchbox, can make this determination from a pinprick sized sample of blood. It works by identifying chemicals that are released by the body when it has been infected by bacteria. However, the chip won’t indicate which type of bacterium has caused an infection.

Scientists hope to have a working chip ready for use within the next five years.

The project’s leader, Christoph Wälti, said: ‘We need to develop some way to make it easier for doctors to use antibiotics as precisely as possible in future. That is why we have developed this device.’

‘Our talks with GPs and healthcare officials made it clear our device would have to be able to produce a definitive diagnosis in only about 10 to 15 minutes. You cannot expect people to come in one day and then return the next to get their result, especially if you are going to say to the patient that he or she has a virus and there is nothing much you can do for them. Speed is therefore critical. And that pushes the technology to the limit. However, we believe we have overcome those issues.’