BYU professors aim to create faster blood diagnostic tests

Jaren Wilkey/BYU
Four BYU professors are involved in a study that is working to develop faster blood diagnostic tests. 
(Jaren S. Wilkey)

The amount of bacteria that have become antibiotic resistant is rising. A group of four BYU professors has banded together to create a faster way to detect such bacteria.

The professors, who come from many different fields of study, have a goal to create a new blood diagnostic test that would check for these types of bacteria much faster than current diagnostic tests would. The current test takes from 24 hours to three days to obtain results, but the new one would take less than an hour.

Richard Robison, a microbiology and molecular biology professor at BYU, is one of the four professors involved. He said the current diagnostic test takes way too long. If patients were to test positive for bacteria that was resistant to antibiotics and waited three days, it would be too late.

“By then, most of them are dead,” Robison said.

William Pitt, a chemical engineering professor at BYU, is also involved in the project. He explained that this test will be very important.

“It will save lives because it will allow doctors to more quickly diagnose if somebody has an infection that is resistant to the common antibiotics and start that person with the correct antibiotics immediately and rapidly before they get sicker,” Pitt said.

The four professors involved in the project come from four different areas of expertise, including chemical engineering, electrical engineering, chemistry and microbiology.

Aaron Hawkins is an electrical engineering professor at BYU, as well as principal investigator of this project. He explained that being so specialized works in their favor, and they complement each other.

“They’re really diverse fields and disciplines that maybe normally don’t work together,” Hawkins said. “There is some crossover and some combined understanding that people still have to have a specialty and expertise to have any chance of this working.”

Adam Woolley is a chemistry professor working on the project. He said he had worked with this group of professors before, and that it is good that they represent different fields.

“It’s exciting; it’s invigorating to appreciate the expertise of various people,” Woolley said.

The project is currently being funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Health. The professors are also partnered up with a company, Great Basin Scientific, to help reproduce the diagnostic test. The goal is that by the end of these five years, the new test will be available commercially.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU
The professors involved in this project come from many different fields. This specialization is beneficial to the project.
(Jaren S. Wilkey)

Hawkins said he realizes that this goal may be a little aggressive.

“I’m not sure how soon we can really do it, but five years is the goal,” Hawkins said.

Pitt explained he would work on this project in the future. He said projects like this take time, and that not everything always goes right.

“Nothing works right the first time,” Pitt said. “There are always problems; if this was an easy problem it would have been solved a long time ago.”

Woolley, whose favorite part about the project was being able to make a difference in medical treatment, agreed that he would continue to work on this project after the grant.

“I think there’s still opportunity to continue developing improvements in the system,” Woolley said.

Hawkins remained excited about their goal.

“The engineering side of me wants to see something that is a practical solution that will change something about the world that will become a product someday, that you could buy it or you could see it made and influencing peoples lives,” Hawkins said. “So that idea is exciting: there is a path and a real goal in mind that would be life-changing and world changing.”


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