Belfast Scientists Develop Faster Test For Meningitis

Researchers at Queen's University in Belfast have established a new test which can help identify potential cases of meningitis earlier than expected.

Meningococcal disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose as initial symptoms mimic those of common colds. Researchers at Queen's and The Belfast Trust are working to improve testing to prevent unnecessary deaths while at the same time reducing the number of children treated unnecessarily "just in case".

Professor Mike Shields, Clinical Professor at Queen's University Belfast and Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children said: "If we suspect a child may have meningococcal septicaemia, we will administer antibiotic treatment straight away. If we wait a few days for the test results to confirm, it may be too late and we risk losing the child."

Treating potential cases with antibiotics for 48 hours is the safest approach in treating potential cases until new, fast diagnoses are made available. However, this approach means that for every child with meningococcal disease, four children are being over treated.
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A study found that out of the 105 babies and children treated for suspected Meningococcal Septicaemia, only one third were later found to be infected meaning two thirds received treatment unnecessarily.

The NHS gold standard test (blood cultures) for detecting meningococcal disease can take up to 48 hours for results to come back. Researchers have developed a diagnostic test, known as Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP), which provides results within an hour. Throughout the two year study, researchers tested patients using both the standard NHS and the LAMP tests. The LAMP test proved to be as efficient as the standard test in returning accurate diagnosis though in a fraction of the time.

Dr James Mc Kenna, Clinical Scientist and lead researcher in developing the LAMP test said: "The LAMP test enables doctors to efficiently diagnose meningococcal septicaemia within an hour. The LAMP diagnosis could significantly reduce the number of patients taking medication unnecessarily as well as preventing needless anxiety to patients and their families.

"The test saves lives as well as saving precious time for hospital staff so the next stage is that this test can be made readily available to clinicians. When designing the LAMP diagnosis, we focused on producing a test that would be easy to use for clinicians in a hospital setting, taking away from what can be a timely cost of tests being performed by trained lab technicians."


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