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Matching the Drug to the Bug

April 24, 2012

A new technique can quickly identify a pathogen and size up its drug resistance, all with one test.



Naming the bug, picking the drug.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many disease-causing microbes are resistant to antibiotics.  But confirming which drugs will work can take days.  Now, Harvard Medical School microbiologist Deborah Hung’s team is developing a single test that can identify a pathogen and size up its weaknesses.

DEBORAH HUNG (Harvard Medical School/Mass. General Hospital):
Long before a bacteria will grow or die in the presence of an antibiotic, there’s much earlier changes that happen to the cell. One of those very very early changes is actually the cell’s response to the stress and the shock of a toxic drug it’s being exposed to.

That stress is detectable in RNA – genetic material that can also be used to identify the bug.  Hung’s team tested the technique on bacteria like E. coli and tuberculosis, as well as viruses, yeast, and parasites.  Now they’re working to make the test faster and more sensitive.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.