New machine will help doctors quickly identify illnesses

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By the end of this year, Utah hospitals could be testing a new instrument that can quickly identify exactly what's making you sick. We're not just talking about one pathogen or organism inside your body, but multiple villains that are causing the problem.

From a nasal or throat swab, doctors can now quickly identify influenza A or B or a strep throat, but the tests are not always accurate, and they're limited in what they show. But what about all the other things that can make us sick?

A new machine, developed by a spin-off company from University of Utah research called Idaho Technology Inc., can accurately analyze the DNA of more than 20 different pathogens. It's gone through tests at Primary Children's Hospital, with some surprising results from kids with respiratory infections.

"What we saw was a much higher than anticipated rate of dual positive, triple positives -- situations where you're not just infected with one virus, but two or three," said Wade Stevenson, with Idaho Technology.

But the machine is only part of it. Normally, technicians have to chemically extract and purify the DNA from the organisms in labs before it is analyzed. The whole process may take days to complete. But this little self-contained vacuum sealed pouch, which is also part of the package, does all the preparation within seconds.

The beauty of this test is its sheer simplicity. For example, the sample is loaded in once side of the machine and the dehydration solution in another part. Simply snap them in place, and from there it's all automatic.

An hour after the pouch goes into the machine, doctors get multiple results. The machine eventually could even isolate drug-resistant and drug-sensitive infections. "So not only do we tell you what antibiotic this bacteria is resistant to, but which one will kill it," Stevenson said.

This instrument could go into FDA clinical trials by November, during the 2009-2010 flu season. If all goes well, it could be on the market by the end of 2010. Eventually, it might be available right in your own doctor's office.


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Ed Yeates


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