AIT: Diagnostic tests for super bacteria

Researchers at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology are developing new methods for the fast and cost-effective diagnosis of life-threatening diseases in a recently launched EU project. As ever more antibiotics are losing their effectiveness, the researchers are hoping to enable targeted therapy through rapid analysis of the pathogens.

Super bacteria on the rise
Improved medical treatment with antibiotics and comprehensive vaccination campaigns have led to significant progress in the fight against infectious diseases and the associated pathogens. Over the past few years, however, these advances have gradually slowed down due to the extreme adaptability of bacteria and viruses.

Almost all known pathogens have developed resistance to antibiotics as a result of the increased and often inappropriate use of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture. Some of these pathogens can therefore not be treated with conventional drugs. Although life-threatening bacteria so called “super bacteria” are still rare in Europe, we are seeing a constant increase in infectious diseases that cannot be treated with available medication due to the massive spread of resistant pathogens in non-European countries.

Targeted therapy through fast diagnosis
The development of resistances can be prevented by targeted therapy. This however requires a thorough genetic analysis of the pathogen. The Horizon 2020 project FAPIC (Fast Assay for Pathogen Identification and Characterization) sets out to develop two diagnostic systems that can identify all known pathogens and associated antibiotic resistances with only one test. In addition to bacteria and viruses, such as the influenza virus or multi-resistant E. coli bacteria, the test should also be able to detect parasites and worm diseases.

“We have developed novel DNA probes which enable the fast and cost-effective identification of all relevant antibiotic resistances. This method provides the basis for the diagnostic tests for rapid pathogen detection”, says Dr. Ivan Barisic, Scientist at the AIT Health & Environment Department. Conventional laboratory methods either cover only a fraction of potential antibiotic resistances with one test or involve significant expenditure of time and money, with costs amounting to several hundreds of euros per analysis. The new tests are designed to spare patients unnecessary or ineffective treatment.

Cost-effective systems for hospitals and medical practices
One system will be fully automatic and is intended for use in larger hospitals and reference centres. The second, smaller system is designed for independent laboratories, medical practices and developing countries. The consortium of the five-year research project includes ten institutions from seven European countries and is led by the University of Lyon (UCBL). The total budget of 6 million euros provides sufficient resources to develop a cost-effective diagnostic test, which provides detailed information about the infection and potential treatment only three hours after sampling. The high cost pressure in the health system was taken into account in the planning and design of the diagnostic systems.

First tests in three years
The biotechnological foundations for the diagnostic systems were laid at AIT over the past few years. The special challenge was to find a detection principle that makes it possible to identify a large number of genes with high specificity in the shortest period of time. After 3.5 years of development, the diagnostic tests will finally be tested at university clinics in Belgium and Croatia as part of the FAPIC project. The consortium includes companies that are already present on the diagnostic market with their own products thus ensuring rapid market introduction.

“The project will enable AIT to significantly increase its expertise in the field of infection diagnostics”, says Dr. Martin Weber, Head of Molecular Diagnostics at AIT.

The sender takes full responsibility for the content of this news item. Content may include forward-looking statements which, at the time they were made, were based on expectations of future events. Readers are cautioned not to rely on these forward-looking statements.

As a life sciences organization based in Vienna, would you like us to promote your news and events? If so, please send your contributions to news(at)