Consider one of the most common medical scenarios that plays out in doctors’ offices around the world, every day. An adult or child presents with a fever. The question is, does the doctor prescribe antibiotics or not? In many cases,
bacterial and viral infection will result in similar symptoms, and there is currently no simple, point-of-care (POC) test that can tell the doctor whether the underlying infection is bacterial and may require antibiotics, or whether it is viral, in which case antibiotics would be ineffective. Not uncommonly, uncertainty as to the cause of the fever, especially if the patient is a child, elderly, or has other medical issues, will lead to antibiotics being prescribed as a matter of course.
So why is the decision about whether to prescribe antibiotics or not so challenging, wonders Kfir Oved, Ph.D., M.D., co-founder and chief technology officer at Israel-based MeMed, which is developing a rapid POC blood test that can distinguish between viral and bacterial infections in just 15 minutes. “The reason is that even in resource-rich settings where cutting-edge microbiological tools are available, and certainly in resource-limited settings, actionable diagnosis is still constrained.” It can take days to carry out routine microbial cultures. While obtaining samples from some tissue sites, such as the lower respiratory tract, or in cases where there is no obvious infection source, can compound the problem. Even molecular tests may not be definitive. The results from microbe-based tests that look for bacterial proteins or nucleic acid can be hard to interpret, and confounded by co-infections and/or the presence of non-causative, bystander bacteria.
Seeking the Solution
MeMed was established 10 years ago to develop a tool that could help clinicians determine whether an infection is likely bacterial or viral, Oved explained to Clinical OMICs. “We initially ‘played’ with different technologies that detect pathogens, but began wondering whether this approach is really suited to the clinical question of whether one has a bacterial or viral infection. What if we flip the problem upside down? What if rather than trying to directly detect the pathogen, we develop a solution that relies on the best detection system out there—much better than we could ever hope to create as scientists, clinicians and engineers—our own immune system?”
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