Is it a virus or a bacteria? New test may help curb unnecessary antibiotic prescription

A team of Israeli researchers have developed a test that can distinguish whether an infection stems from a virus or a bacteria – a simple but potentially impactful screener that could cut down unnecessary use of antibiotics. Hailing from Israel-based biotech MeMed, the overarching goal is to curb antibiotic resistance – which is growing thanks […]

A team of Israeli researchers have developed a test that can distinguish whether an infection stems from a virus or a bacteria – a simple but potentially impactful screener that could cut down unnecessary use of antibiotics.

Hailing from Israel-based biotech MeMed, the overarching goal is to curb antibiotic resistance – which is growing thanks largely to wanton overprescription. The CDC estimates that nearly half of all antibiotics prescribed actually needn’t have been.

Its ImmunePoC test, still in development, works by studying the proteins produced in response to a pathogen. Different proteins are released by the immune system, depending on whether it’s a virus or a bacteria – and the test simply works as an identifier. It takes minutes, rather than several days – which is the current standard to cultivate a bacterial colony.

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A 1,000 patient trial in Israel, published in March in PLOS ONE, found that the test had a specificity and sensitivity greater than 90 percent in identifying whether a pathogen was a bacteria or a virus.

“We conducted big data filtering, followed by extensive screening of 600 immune system-related proteins,” Kfir Oved, MeMed chief technology officer, said in a statement. ”A few of the proteins showed distinctly different patterns in bacterial and viral infected patients. In particular, the most informative protein we found, called TRAIL, dramatically increased in the blood of patients infected with a wide range of viruses, but surprisingly, decreased in bacterial infections. Our team developed an algorithm that computationally integrates TRAIL with other immune proteins to diagnose the cause of the infection with high accuracy.”

Decoding immune response, as opposed to direct pathogen identification, is a growing trend in diagnostics. Identifying the newly circulating proteins appears to be a consistently faster way to ID disease-causing agents.