Faster and more accurate testing for causes of lower respiratory tract infections

A study involving researchers from IBEC, the University of Barcelona and the Catalan company Biokit SA describes the development of a device ‘on-a-chip’ which is able to carry out automated extraction and testing for bacterial or viral DNA or RNA directly from human samples.

Focused specifically on lower respiratory tract infections (CA-LRTI) such as pneumonia and bronchitis, the miniaturized device carries out the entire sample preparation procedure, extracting purified DNA or RNA from real samples of CA-LRTI pathogens more effectively than in existing experiments. It also offers hands-free operation, self-explanatory data and reliable results, even if used by a non-expert.

“Lower respiratory tract infections account for 3.4m deaths each year worldwide. Their disease-causing agents can be bacterial or viral, but doctors can’t tell which on the basis of clinical symptoms alone,” explains Antoni Homs of IBEC’s Nanobioengineering group. “Traditional diagnostic tests take at least 48 hours, and laboratory diagnosis is often not conducted for patients with symptoms at the point of primary care, which results in uncertainty about which type of bacteria or virus is causing the symptoms. So our key challenge was to design something able to perform the complete preparation of a clinical sample containing either respiratory bacterial or viral pathogens, and easily and quickly isolate and recuperate their genetic material.”

The miniaturization and integration of the complete sample preparation procedure represents an important step towards its application in a point-of-care test for rapid diagnosis of these diseases. “In addition, since respiratory tract infections are the most common reason for prescribing antibiotics, and antibiotic resistance is strongly correlated to antibiotic consumption, improving diagnostics in this field could further help curb antibiotic resistance,” adds Antoni.

The research, which was carried out as part of the EU-funded TheraEDGE project and a direct collaboration agreement between IBEC and Biokit SA (Werfen Group), also involved researchers at the Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz GmbH (IMM) in Germany, the University of Antwerp in Belgium, and the rest of a consortium including up to 16 European companies and institutions.

Van Heirstraeten, L., Spang, P., Schwind, C., Drese, K. S., Ritzi-Lehnert, M., Nieto, B., Camps, M., Landgraf, B., Guasch, F., Homs Corbera, A., Samitier, J., Goossens, H., Malhotra-Kumar, S. & Roeser, T. (2014). Integrated DNA and RNA extraction and purification on an automated microfluidic cassette from bacterial and viral pathogens causing community-acquired lower respiratory tract infections. Lab Chip, 14, 1519-1526