The battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria gets a new ally: a computer program that can quickly examine a bacteria's DNA and predict its antibiotic resistance has been developed in the UK. The bacteria's DNA can be taken from the infection and the software can also identify which antibiotics will be effective.

The software is currently being evaluated in three hospitals in Oxford, Leeds and Brighton. The clinical setting assessments aim to see if using the software can result in faster diagnoses of antibiotic-resistant infections. Moreover, researchers want to see if the software can help physicians in prescribing antibiotics that will work effectively on the bacterial infection.

Predicting Antibiotic Resistance

Aptly named the Mykrobe Predictor, the software was developed by the team of Zamin Iqbal from the University of Oxford's Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics. The Mykrobe Predictor software can be installed and run using a standard-issue tablet or laptop. The software also does not require a specialized technical know-how to use. When a cultured bacteria's DNA has been sequenced, the Mykrobe Predictor can examine a bacteria's complete genetic code in less than three minutes.

A clinical study using the Mykrobe Predictor analyzed more than 4,500 retrospective samples from patients. Findings proved the software generated accurate detections of tuberculosis (TB) and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), one form of which causes Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

In more than 99 percent of S. aureus cases, the Mykrobe Predictor software successfully detected the bacteria's resistance to five antibiotics. The data matched results from conventional drug susceptibility testing.

For TB, the software matched results using current DNA tests. Since the genetic basis for TB's antibiotic resistance is unclear, snippets of DNA were analyzed instead of the entire genetic sequence. The Mykrobe Predictor detected 82.6 percent of drug-resistant infections. Moreover, the software was able to finish the entire process in just five to 16 weeks.

"Our software manages data quickly and presents the results to doctors and nurses in ways that are easy to understand, so they can instinctively use them to make better treatment decisions," said Iqbal, the paper's senior author.

Antibiotic Resistance: A Global Health Threat

Antibiotic resistance is a major hazard to worldwide health. Bacteria constantly evolve and sometimes, they evolve to become drug-resistant which could lead to deadly infections. When a bacteria strain becomes resistant to drugs, the newly acquired trait can also be passed to other bacteria.

In order to stop the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, patients should be given the right antibiotic type and treated fast. However, analyzing which bacterial strain is causing the infection and which antibiotics would work requires a long and tedious process. This involves applying various antibiotics to the bacteria placed in a petri dish. Drug susceptibility tests can take days. For slow-developing infections such as TB, the testing could take even months.

This is the issue that the researchers strive to address with Mykrobe Predictor. "Our ultimate goal is to be able to provide complete information on a pathogen within 24 hours of culture," Iqbal added.

The information generated using the software is then linked to a national database to allow medical specialists to deliver a faster and more efficient treatment for patients.

The clinical study findings were published in the journal Nature Communications on Dec. 21.

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