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Metagenomics Enables Rapid Respiratory Infection Testing in ICU Patients

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 28 Feb 2024
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Image: Genetic testing offers potential for faster diagnosis for patients with infectious respiratory conditions (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: Genetic testing offers potential for faster diagnosis for patients with infectious respiratory conditions (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Patients with respiratory infectious diseases admitted to intensive care units urgently need appropriate medication, yet microbiologists typically require around three days to identify the responsible pathogens. Now, a new technology could offer a faster diagnostic solution for patients struggling with respiratory infections.

Researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT, London, UK) have trialed a new technology that accelerates the genetic testing process for patients with suspected respiratory infectious diseases. This advanced approach, known as metagenomics, sequences genetic material from a comprehensive range of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, potentially responsible for the infection. Remarkably, results are available in just seven hours, enabling same-day administration of accurate and effective treatments.

Unlike other tests, metagenomic testing can detect all present microorganisms, not limited to those specifically being sought or suspected by clinicians of causing the infection. The researchers have secured additional funding to extend this rapid genetic testing to a broader patient base. This expansion builds upon the initial successful pilot, which demonstrated its potential to enhance treatment for nearly half of the participants. The new funding will facilitate the implementation of this technology in multiple hospitals across the UK over the next two years. The aim is to monitor and curtail the spread of respiratory diseases, ultimately aiding in the prevention of new outbreaks.

“It is vital that the sickest patients in our intensive care unit receive the right medication as quickly as possible,” said Ian Abbs, Chief Executive at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Co-Chair of the South East Genomic Medicine Service. “This new genetic test can make that happen and we are delighted that we now have funding to ensure other intensive care units, and their patients, can also benefit.”

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