YIKES! Scientists develop tiny probe that can be inserted into a patient’s lungs for quick diagnosis
03/05/2018 // David Williams // Views

Treating lung infections usually requires the use of antibiotics on top of other medications, as doctors make sure to cover all bases and prevent further complications from happening in patients. Now a team of scientists has figured out a way to greatly improve current treatment methods with the use of a simple probe that can be inserted directly into the lungs of patients.

The method for the probe, which got its inspiration from a 1960s science fiction film titled Fantastic Voyage, was developed by a team of scientists and doctors from Edinburgh, Bath, and Heriot-Watt Universities in the U.K. and first presented during a U.S. science meeting that recently happened in Texas. Dubbed the Proteus probe, it enables doctors to see exactly the kind of infections present inside the bodies of their patients with the help of a special chemical that makes bacteria visible.

According to Kevin Dhaliwal, a professor at Edinburgh University and the lead of the project, the use of the Proteus probe can drastically cut down on treatment times and deliver far more accurate diagnosis in patients compared to conventional methods. "The real advantage is that we are actually imaging and detecting where the disease is in the patient's lungs and we are giving a diagnosis and a decision-making power within minutes or seconds," he explained. "That's a big difference."

Current methods involve taking test samples directly from the patients themselves, bringing them to laboratories for detailed analysis, and waiting for the results to come out. This process usually takes a few days to complete and tends to give highly unreliable results.


The team behind the project stated that they are using the method they developed to test if critically ill people are starting to develop pneumonia. It is said that patients who are in intensive care receive a wide assortment of antibiotics, simply to make sure that they don't have the infection. However, this could potentially backfire by way of unintended complications, which could happen as the antibiotics come into contact with other medication.

And of course, another downside to the constant use of antibiotic medicine in patients increased risk of antibiotic strains being developed. According to Anya Bruce, a project manager working on the Proteus project, their probe makes better use of antibiotics by making sure to only use the ones that are completely necessary for the treatment of patients. "The Proteus system can identify the precise strain of the bacteria and therefore enable doctors to prescribe the appropriate antibiotic," she said. "There is a huge over-use of antibiotics."

In an interview with BBC News, Bruce mentioned that the Proteus probe could fill in a huge gap in the current methods used by doctors all over the world. "Clinicians do not have the answers at their fingertips when administering broad-spectrum antibiotics," she said, "but this technology could give them the information about what they are trying to treat."

Apart from the treatment of pneumonia, the team of experts behind Proteus has also started looking in to the possibility of using their new method to treat other diseases. Malaria in particular is a target of theirs, and they have reported that they've already made some great progress. In any case, development on the project will likely continue until it becomes good enough to be used out in the real world.

Find out more outside-of-the-box ideas in Innovations.news.

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