Based on the premise that pathogens give off a distinct malodorous scent, scientists at the Oklahoma City University and the National University of Kaohsiung in Taiwan of the Republic of China developed a sepsis-testing device with an “artificial nose” that procures 99% clinically relevant results in 24 hours compared to the traditional 72 hours in a hospital setting using far more expensive equipment.
The sepsis-detecting contraption comprises of a plastic bottle, which fits into the palm of the hand, with a liquid nutrient medium to culture the bacteria, and a chemical sensing array (CSA) within the bottle. The CSA comes in the form of 36 clear dots that function as the “nose” and change color as it reacts to the unique odor given off by microbes.
Using the device is simple: a potentially infected blood sample is injected into the bottle and then shaken by a simple agitation machine to induce bacterial growth. As the pathogens give off their signature scent, the dots change color according to the pigments in the dots in a designated pattern to identify the specific bacteria strain. The test is complete within 24 hours. The current model can classify only eight of the most common bloodborne pathogens and scientists are working on expanding the test’s range to detect other sepsis-causing bacteria.
Sepsis, or “blood poisoning,” kills 250,000 people each year in the United States alone, with costs to treat sepsis averaging more than $20 billion. Sepsis causes a cascade of reactions in the body in response to bloodborne pathogens. When caught late, it causes multi-organ failure and ultimately death. Thus, determining the specific bacteria strain, and hence the correct antibiotic to treat the disease, within a short amount of time is crucial.
Due to the portable, relatively inexpensive, and time-saving nature of the test, scientists are hoping the device can be utilized to decrease the death rate of sepsis, particularly in developing nations where access to a laboratory is impossible and the 72 hours it takes to culture the bacteria and test the strain for antibiotic sensitivity might mean certain death to countless people.