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A Rapid Test that Detects Group B Streptococcus is in Development

Image created by Dr. Michael J. Miller

Scientists at the University of Bath are looking for volunteers to help them develop a new test that could prevent dangerous bacterial infections in newborn babies which currently kills one baby every week in the UK.

Between 20-40 per cent of women carry a bacterium called Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in their vaginas.

This normally does not cause harm, but during pregnancy, it can be passed onto the baby, which sometimes causes life-threatening infections and can result in life-long disabilities or death.

GBS is currently the leading cause of neonatal infection – in the UK, it kills around one newborn baby a week and leaves another permanently disabled.

Professor Toby Jenkins, from the University of Bath’s Department of Chemistry, is leading a team to develop a new rapid detection system that can test mothers for GBS during labour, identifying those at risk of infection so they can be treated with antibiotics and therefore reduce the risk of the baby becoming infected.

He said: “The current test is done at 36-38 weeks of pregnancy, but this may not reflect the situation during labour, resulting in either risk to the baby, or unnecessary antibiotic use by the mother.

“Our test aims to be much faster – with results in under 45 minutes – and can be done during established labour so the result is more accurate.

“If the mother is found to have GBS at this stage, antibiotics can be immediately offered, which is an effective way of preventing transmission.”

The test consists of a vaginal swab taken from the mother which is placed in a liquid that can detect GBS.

Professor Jenkins added: “We are now looking for participants to donate two vaginal swabs so we can determine the efficacy, sensitivity and specificity of the test to GBS. Participants are completely anonymous, but would be hugely helpful to our research project.”

The team is looking for individuals born biologically female, who are over 18 years old, currently not pregnant and able to take their own samples to send anonymously to the lab.

Participation is entirely confidential: the team will not know the identity of donors.

The study has full ethics approval from REACH, is supported by the charity Group B Strep Support, and funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 project STIMULUS.

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