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Device designed in Utah detects sickness in an hour

By Keith McCord | Posted - Feb 13th, 2013 @ 5:24pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — One thing that certainly won't make you feel better when you're sick is waiting several days to find out exactly what's making you feel so bad. Lab tests can sometimes take that long and lead to delays in treatment.

What if you could find out in an hour? A Salt Lake company has developed a machine that's now in hospitals across the country. It gives doctors and patents key information to offer proper treatment.

It's called the FilmArray, a small device that connects to a laptop that uses a respiratory panel to identify 20 different viruses or bacteria in about an hour. A sample is taken from a patient's nose or mouth and various chemicals are used to determine which one is making the person sick.

"It's the system that enables detection of 20 viral or bacterial targets that are typically responsible for upper respiratory infections," said Rachel Jones of Biofire Diagnostics.

From various types of flu strains, many viruses and other types of bacteria, the FilmArray prints out a list of what's been detected — and what hasn't been detected — which helps doctors determine the best course of action.

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Before the FilmArray hit the market in 2011, determining what it was that ailed you took some time, as those petri dishes with swab samples had to be sent to a lab.

"Before, we would have to send those tests out, taking two days to get a result for a PCR," said Ranae Grand-Pre, a supervisor in a laboratory at Primary Children's Hospital. "And now, it takes an hour to run a film array and maybe 5 minutes of tech time."

One of the most common questions doctors get from patients with sick children is "What does my child have?" The Film Array may be able to give both the answer, and a little peace of mind.

"I think for those of us with small kids, when they're sick, even if there isn't a prescription that a doctor can write, you still want to know what's not making them feel so good," Jones said.

Another benefit of the device is that it requires little training to operate properly. Any staff can learn it quickly, which makes it key for those overnight shifts when people might bring in their kids; they can be tested and diagnosed right then and there.

"A physician can get a result faster and that means he can start treating the patient faster, or in some cases stop treating the patient," said Ray Widen, Ph.D., with Tampa General Hospital.

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