The new approach could speed up diagnosis times for many serious conditions, including meningitis, to under two hours.
Our Research Co-ordinator Jane Blewitt said, “We welcome this excellent news. The rapid diagnosis of serious infectious diseases such as meningitis will save lives and increase the chance of a positive outcome.”
The landmark project, involving an international consortium led by Imperial, has been awarded a major EU grant worth €22.5 million over five years, to develop the test and bring it to hospitals across Europe.
The current process of diagnosing infectious and inflammatory diseases involves doing many different blood tests and scans, which can be slow and inefficient, meaning that there may be significant delays before the right treatment is given.
Researchers believe diagnosis can be made accurately and rapidly on the first blood sample taken when a patient attends a hospital or health centre, by identifying the pattern of genes switched on in each patient’s blood.
Unique gene signatures
The team of scientists, led by Imperial’s Professor Michael Levin from the Department of Infectious Disease, believe that the test could completely change the way patients are diagnosed.
The work will build on over a decade of research into the pattern of genes switched on in the blood in different conditions. Previous research discovered that each disease is associated with a unique pattern of genes that are switched on or off – which form a ‘molecular signature’ – which can be used to rapidly identify each disease.
Earlier studies using the technique found that it could predict a bacterial infection with 95-100 per cent accuracy.
The international group will build a ‘library of gene signatures’ where the signatures of all common infectious and inflammatory diseases will be stored and made publicly available.
By comparing the pattern of genes in each patient’s blood sample with the signature of all diseases in the ‘gene signature library’, the diagnosis in each individual can be made rapidly.
Currently if a patient enters hospital with symptoms such as a high fever and feeling unwell they could go through a whole series of investigations, such as blood tests, spinal fluid samples, MRI and CT scans, while medics try to identify the cause.
Patients can also be treated with antibiotics unnecessarily as a precaution in case they have a bacterial infection. Investigations can take days or weeks before an accurate diagnosis is made, delaying treatment, taking up resources and costing vast amounts of money.
The team will spend the next two years building the library of gene signatures covering all common conditions.
Read the full article on the Imperial College London website.
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