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NIH awards $5.1M to Hopkins team developing fast diagnostic tool for sexually transmitted diseases

September 28, 2018
Jeff Wang (left) and Charlotte Gaydos

Jeff Wang (left) and Charlotte Gaydos

New cases of sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise worldwide, and some strains have become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.

With the support of a $5.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Jeff Wang a professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and member of the school’s Institute for NanoBioTechnology, is leading a team that is creating a device that not only rapidly tests for gonorrhea, but detects if a particular bacterial strain is resistant to antibiotics.

“Our diagnostic tool will help physicians personalize treatments to individual infections rather than using the current uniform approach, which is thought to significantly influence antimicrobial resistance.” Wang said. “The device analyzes gonorrhea’s phenotype, or observable characteristics and behaviors of an organism, and specific DNA markers to detect its antimicrobial susceptibility. The results will tell the physician if a patient is infected, and if so, which medications are best suited for treatment and the minimum amount needed.”

Working alongside Wang is Charlotte Gaydos, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Development of Point-of-Care Tests for Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

“This device is a game changer because knowledge is power,” said Gaydos. “And it’s a double-game changer because receiving results right away and knowing resistance susceptibility allows us to create precision-directed therapy. Testing can also identify if antibiotics previously recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, but not currently, will work. This means we can save some of the stronger medications for when they are really needed.”

Knowing promptly if a person has a serious infection is, of course, important so that treatment can begin immediately. Current testing modalities can take between 24 and 48 hours, because the bacteria must be cultured or tested by molecular methods in a lab. As a result, a number of patients tested in clinics and emergency rooms have to leave those facilities without knowing whether they have the infection or not, and some never follow up. This puts them at risk of unknowingly spreading the bacteria—especially in the case of gonorrhea, which causes no symptoms in about 40 percent of patients.

Wang’s team’s device drastically cuts testing time to one hour or less, meaning patients can get their results quickly and can begin treatment almost immediately.

Excerpted from The Hub >>

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