Sensor analyses the resistance of bacteria

Sheila Zabeu -

October 12, 2021

Scientists at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have developed a new sensor with a barcode-like structure to quickly and inexpensively screen for drug-resistant bacteria.  The intention is that the novelty will be used on a large scale in assessments of water, food, and public facilities, as well as in urgent bulk sample surveys during infectious disease outbreaks.

For some time now, bacteria resistant to antibiotics have become a threat in the medical world due to the excessive and inappropriate use of this type of medication. On the other hand, sensitivity tests, used to identify which antibiotics can effectively inhibit the growth of certain types of bacteria, are very slow, requiring 16 to 24 hours to issue. There are more modern versions of these tests that are faster, but also more expensive and require more elaborate laboratory equipment.

The innovation proposed by HKBU researchers uses a faster – delivering results in as little as three hours – and more cost-effective – without the use of expensive analytical instruments – technique to screen bacterial samples wherever they are needed.

“Our ‘barcode’ based analysis system is a promising resource in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. We hope it will benefit the routine screening of resistant bacteria in the food industry, public sector, and healthcare facilities, as it does not require advanced equipment or professional analysis skills,” highlights Dr. Ren Kangning, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at HKBU.

The solution is automatic and does not require microscopes. One part of the structure makes the cell culture, using fluids to compose the medium, as well as different concentrations of the antibiotic. A second region, with a sensor in barcode format, informs, through a mobile application, if there are bacteria resistant to the drug in the sample.  The length of the bars will be proportional to the number of bacterial cells cultivated under the different concentrations of the antibiotic.

The image presented by the sensor is automatically analyzed by an application. If all the bars have similar lengths, it means that the antibiotic tested is not able to inhibit the growth of bacteria, i.e. the sample is resistant to the antibiotic tested. If the length of the bars is inversely proportional to the concentration of the antibiotic, it means that the antibiotic tested is effective in preventing the growth of the bacteria. When two adjacent bars show a marked difference in length, this indicates that the antimicrobial effect of the antibiotic increases when its concentration reaches a certain level.

According to the researchers, the barcode sensor produced results consistent with those presented by conventional tests with E.coli and S.aureus bacteria.

The cost of producing the new sensor is estimated at less than a dollar per unit. The research team has already filed a patent application for the innovation.

Technology in the hospital environment

Simpler, more cost-effective lab tests like the one proposed by Hong Kong Baptist University are just one facet of the challenges facing the healthcare industry. In an attempt to overcome obstacles related to patient care, workflow, and asset visibility, among others, many hospitals are looking to technology as an ally to cope with new demands and better prepare for future uncertainties, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

A recent Zebra Technologies survey of more than 500 senior-level hospital leaders in clinical, IT, and purchasing disciplines aimed to understand precisely the role of technology in hospital environments.

The study revealed, for example, that more than half of respondents agree that technology can help improve medication tracking as well as patient flow and nursing work. In addition, the survey showed that the use of handheld devices at various points in hospitals is evolving. Zebra’s last survey of the healthcare community in 2017 had revealed that most mobility investments were focused at the bedside, providing access to electronic medical records and facilitating team communication. Now hospitals are adopting technology capabilities to manage the supply chain, locate critical equipment and assets, and control emergency and operating room logistics.

Source: Zebra

As a result of these expectations, hospitals plan to increase investments in technology. Nearly nine out of 10 decision-maker respondents plan to increase spending on technology, specifically in the areas of IT, clinical mobility, and location solutions, with more than 35 percent indicating an increase of more than 10 percent.