Testing Antimicrobial Resistance Using Smartphones

Antimicrobial resistant bacteria are a serious and growing threat to human health. As they grow and evolve, scientists must work frantically to keep pace with them and provide medical treatment for those afflicted. It is particularly worrying how they are becoming increasingly common in high mortality diseases such as sepsis, pneumonia, and diarrhea. But now scientists have found a way for smartphones to combat this global health crisis.

Part of the problem with tracking and fighting this antimicrobial resistant bacteria is a difficulty with testing potentially infected people. Highly-trained technicians and cutting-edge labs were required for accurate results — virtually impossible in remote areas. Now there’s a different way: scientists at UCLA have created a smartphone attachment that conducts automated antimicrobial susceptibility testing. It’s simple, inexpensive, and could save countless lives.

The attachment, which connects easily to most smartphone models, can hold up to 96 separate samples. LED lights highlight the sample, while the built-in camera phone studies changes in the light transmission. Pictures of each sample under various lights are then sent to a server that determines whether they contain any antimicrobial resistant bacteria. The entire process takes roughly one minute, and the results so far have been overwhelmingly successful. After extensive testing of the device, scientists are reporting that it has over 98% accuracy.

Scientists can also use this device to determine how bacteria respond to certain drug treatments. This is crucial when it comes to fighting particularly stubborn strains of diseases; by observing how the bacteria reacts, experts can work out the necessary dose to fight these deadly diseases.

The smartphone attachment meets the FDA-criteria for laboratory quality testing, so there is little concern over inaccurate results. The speed with which reports can be sent through the server could very well speed up the rate of treatment and save lives. And all of this cutting-edge technology comes from an inexpensive device that can plug into an ordinary phone.

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