Test reveals antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a half hour

The discovery of antibiotics in the early part of the 20th century changed modern medicine. Simple infections that previously killed people became easy to treat. Antibiotics' ability to stave off infections made possible routine surgeries, organ transplants, and chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer.

But because of overuse and misuse, antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. Many species of bacteria have evolved resistance to commonly used antibiotics and multidrug-resistant bacteria -- so-called superbugs -- have emerged, plaguing hospitals and nursing homes. Last month, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning: The world is running out of antibiotics.

A new test developed at Caltech that identifies antibiotic-resistant bacteria in as little as 30 minutes could help turn the tide by allowing medical professionals to better choose which antibiotics to treat an infection with. A paper describing the method appears in the October 4 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

When doctors treat patients with bacterial infections, they often skip over first-line antibiotics like methicillin or amoxicillin -- drugs that bacteria are more likely to be resistant to -- and go straight for stronger second-line antibiotics, like ciprofloxacin. This practice increases the chance that the treatment will be effective, but it is not ideal. That's because the increased use of second-line antibiotics makes it more likely that bacteria also will become resistant to these stronger drugs.

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