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Keeping superbugs at bay


A new sensor that tracks medication could help seriously ill patients recover more quickly. Developed by a research team at Imperial College, London, the sensor — in the form of a patch — is able to detect patients’ antibiotic levels. Although it's still early days, researchers hope the device will reduce the number of hospital superbugs. "By using a simple patch on the skin of the arm, or potentially at the site of infection, it could tell us how much of a drug is being used by the body and provide us with vital medical information, in real-time," Dr Timothy Rawson — who helped develop the patch — told PA News.

The sensor, about the size of a small plaster and containing micro-needles thinner than a human hair, is able to slide between skin cells. This allows the sensor to sample body fluids 200 times a second. As they flow between cells they are able to pick up on any subtle changes that indicate how patients are reacting to their antibiotic medication.

The patch, say researchers, could help establish that patients are receiving the right amount of medicine and quickly detect any negative reactions. A small-scale medical trial found that the sensor patch produced results close to the "gold standard" obtained by regular blood tests. The trial also demonstrated the potential of wearable sensors to continually monitor health without patients having to endure invasive procedures.

However, “much larger clinical tests will be needed in specific patient populations too, such as those at risk of sepsis,” Aiden Doherty, group leader in biomedical data science at the University of Oxford, told the BBC. “So while encouraging, years of careful work are required before micro-needles can be routinely used in hospitals for antibiotic drug monitoring.”​​

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