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Disco Bacteria

Disease-causing bacteria will light up like a fluorescent shirt on a nightclub dance floor in a new rapid detection technique currently under development at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Pharmacy.

Over the last couple of decades multi-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA for short, have become a serious global public health concern.

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the Faculty of Pharmacy, Paul Groundwater, who will lead the project titled 'Novel Fluorogenic Probes for the Selective Detection of Pathogenic Bacteria', says that his team will use fluorogenic substrates to identify specific bacterial enzymes.

In the UK, unlike Australia all patients admitted to hospital must be tested for MRSA colonisation or infection, and the methods developed in this project should allow simpler and faster identification of such pathogenic bacteria.

"At the moment, detection methods require the use of either expensive instrumentation or expert analysts, or are simple but time consuming, requiring one to two days for bacteria to be identified."

Of particular concern is that this delay gives bacteria the opportunity for cross-infection of patients, says Professor Groundwater.

"The transmission of bacterial resistance could ultimately lead to new strains of bacteria which have limited or no susceptibility to current antibacterial agents."

Building on previous work, the research team will develop growth media containing fluorogenic compounds which will only generate fluorescence in the presence of specific bacteria.

Co-investigator David Hibbs, Professor of Bio-Pharmaceutical and Structural Chemistry at the University, says: "New surveillance methods are key components of effective infection prevention and control. The rapid identification of bacterial pathogens would facilitate a more effective directed clinical treatment of the infection."

"The rapid detection of the bacterium has the potential to halt and prevent the spread of bacterial infections in a range of healthcare settings."

"There are over 200,000 cases of healthcare-associated infections, including multi-resistant organisms, in Australian acute healthcare facilities each year," he says.

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