Development of a new portable device to quickly diagnose gonorrhea


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for rapid and accurate diagnosis of fatal diseases. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also be devastating, and early detection can prevent further damage to health. One of these STIs is gonorrhea, a bacterial infection. Now, researchers have developed an inexpensive wearable device and companion smartphone app that can diagnose infection in less than 15 minutes.

A team led by scientists at Johns Hopkins University has created a diagnostic device called PROMPT (Portable, Rapid Cartridge Magnetofluidic Testing and Purification Platform). The invention not only allows the infection to be diagnosed quickly, but it can also determine whether the particular strain of gonorrhea bacteria can be treated using first-line antibiotics.

“Our low-cost, portable testing platform has the potential to be a game-changer in the rapid diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. It ensures that patients are diagnosed on the spot and that treatment can begin immediately, improving clinical outcomes. be particularly valuable in low-resource settings, where well-equipped laboratories are not always available to all patients, ”team leader Prof Tza-Huei Wang said in a statement.

A fatal affair

Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria (representative image)Flick / National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases

Gonorrhea is a common and life-threatening sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women. It is caused by bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae and is spread during unprotected oral, vaginal and anal sex. Pregnant mothers can pass the infection to their newborn babies whose eyes are affected. According to the WHO, in 2016 alone, 87 million people worldwide contracted gonorrhea.

The infection can affect not only the genitals, but also other organs such as the mouth, rectum and throat. In women, the cervix can also be affected; leading to infertility in some cases. Symptoms of infection usually appear within 2 to 14 days of exposure. However, many infected people may not develop discernible symptoms and often serve as asymptomatic carriers.

Symptoms in women include vaginal discharge, painful intercourse, and abdominal pain, among others. In men, discharge from the penis, a burning sensation during urination, and swelling of the testicles are some of the symptoms. Treatment for gonorrhea involves oral or injected administration (or both) of one or a combination of antibiotics. However, like many other bacteria, antibiotic resistance strains N..gonorrhea have emerged; rendering existing drugs ineffective.

Ease of mobility

Stomach pain

Abdominal pain (representative image)Flick / Marco Verch

PROMPT is powered by a simple five-volt battery and includes thermoplastic cartridges costing around $ 2. The operation of the test is quite simple. A patient’s body fluid collected with a swab is mixed with a solution of magnetic particles in a tube. Then a drop of the mixed solution is placed inside a cartridge which is attached to the apparatus.

Now the device transfers these magnetized particles to the reagents in the cartridge, which is run through 40 cycles of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Finally, the results are displayed on the cell phone screen via the app. PCR tests help amplify DNA acquired by tiny samples. Importantly, PCR is currently the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.

High precision and speed


Couple (representation image)freeimageslive

When PROMPT underwent testing at sexual health clinics in Baltimore, United States, and Kampala, Uganda, it identified the strain of N..gonorrhea about 97% of the time. In addition, it showed 100% accuracy when it came to determining whether the tested strain of the bacteria would respond to treatment using ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat infections that are resistant to other antibiotics.

The portability and speed of the invention is an improvement over conventional testing methods used in hospitals and laboratories which take up to a week to deliver results. Reducing this waiting period is crucial because it can prevent the unconscious spread of infection to more people by the infected person.

“Our test retains the same sensitivity and specificity currently used in hospital and clinical laboratories, but reduces the cost and time involved. We want these diagnostics to be available to everyone who needs them, when they need them ”. Express Alex Trick, co-author of study. An academic spin-off is being formed by the team to manage regulatory approval, manufacturing and distribution.

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