Discovery Award for Israeli bio-chip testing technology

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 • Jarka Bloemberg

An Israeli testing technology that rapidly identifies bacterial infection in hours instead of days has won the Discovery Award, a financing grant from the United Kingdom that will enable the team to further test and expand the use of the ground-breaking bio-chip technology. The Israeli research was first presented at the 32nd Annual EAU Congress in London last March.

“The grant will further advance our PRISM technology as we endeavour into assaying direct clinical samples taken from a neighbouring medical centre (Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa, Israel),” the team said. “The Discovery Award will aid in the fabrication and advancement of our disposable, microfluidic devices with integrated photonic sensors for continued analysis of clinical samples, such as urine, blood, sputum and cerebral spinal fluid.”

The UK-based Discovery Award is a support grant and is part of the UK Nesta Longitude Prize.

Led by Prof. Ester Segal (Technion Israeli Institute of Technology, Haifa), the team has developed special silicon biosensor chips which contain thousands of nano wells. The wells are coated with a material that allows bacteria to stick to the chip. Technicians use reflected visual light to count the bacteria and monitor whether the colony is growing. By adding different antibiotics in various dilutions to each chip, scientists can see which antibiotic best inhibits bacterial growth, giving them results within two to six hours.

Bacterial infections are still a major cause of death worldwide, and standard tests for bacterial infection typically take around two days for doctors to finally determine the best antibiotic treatment. In Europe more than an estimated four million people acquire hospital-associated infections annually. In the UK alone at least 300,000 patients acquire infections in hospital settings each year, with over 9,000 deaths attributed to bacterial infections. In the US, around 100,000 deaths are recorded each year due to hospital-acquired infections, with around 40% caused by urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Hospital lab time

Determining the correct antibiotic for an infection in a timely manner is critical for a patient and to prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistance; however, a typical bacteria workup procedure requires 24 hours to confirm the presence of bacteria, and at least another 24 to 36 hours to identify the correct antibiotic to use as part of antibiotic susceptibility testing (AST). In total, routine hospital lab time can take 24 to 72 hours, during which time antibiotics may be administered to facilitate the growth of resistant strains, according to the team.

“We have developed a method of phase-shift reflectometric interference spectroscopic measurements (PRISM) that monitors bacterial activity on photonic silicon-based microstructures in real time,” explained co-investigators Mrs. Heidi Leonard from the Segal lab at the Technion and paediatric urologist Prof. Sarel Halachmi of the Bnai-Zion Medical Centre, Faculty of Medicine in Haifa. “With PRISM, we can rapidly determine minimum inhibitory concentrations of antibiotics using miniaturized photonic chips in a substantially faster readout time than state-of-the-art, automated AST systems, such as the Vitek 2.”

The Discovery Award will help the team to fabricate and improve the disposable, microfluidic devices with integrated photonic sensors for continued analysis of clinical samples.

“Preliminary results demonstrate that our system is capable of determining antibiotic susceptibility and the minimal inhibitory concentration within two to three hours. Our method provides a faster alternative for observing antimicrobial resistance and an accurate MIC readout than typical clinical methods, and serves as a rapid phenotypic antimicrobial susceptibility test that aims to require minimal sample handling,” the team said.

During the EAU Congress, Prof. Florian Wagenlehner of the University Clinic in Giessen, Germany and chairman of the European Section of Infections in Urology (ESUI) said the work of the Isreali team addresses an urgent medical need.

“The current culture based techniques have a delay of several days in producing results, which leads, on the one hand, to inappropriate antibiotic treatment, and on the other hand to an overuse of broad spectrum, last resort antibiotics,” Wagenlehner commented. He noted there are several laboratories working on this topic, and several methods aim to reduce the antibiotic testing time.

“Developing the right test will save resources and lives and slow down emergence of antibiotic resistance,” added Wagenlehner.