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Superbug swab test gets phase II backing

A swab test to detect hospital infections has been awarded a phase II Small Business Research Initiative contract from the UK DH

A five-minute swab test, being developed by Universal Sensors to detect the presence of Clostridium difficile or MRSA in hospital wards has been awarded a phase II Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) contract from the UK Department of Health (DH).

Universal Sensors' unique biosensor technology works with existing immuno, enzyme and DNA tests. The company has based its approach on a well-proven technique – enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) – which is a diagnostic tool widely used in medicine.

SBRI contracts are designed to address intractable problems in healthcare and other fields. Every year at least 300,000 patients develop a Health Care Acquired Infection (HCAI) and it is estimated that around one in 10 patients pick up an infection during their stay in a UK hospital, at an estimated cost to the NHS of £1bn a year. If pathogens can be detected early they can be contained and eradicated.

Within its phase I contract, Universal Sensors demonstrated that its Vantix biosensor technology could detect as little as one pathogenic cell per square cm of surface tested. The company proposed that if this technology was to be made available as a hand-held device it would give immediate confirmation of the presence of a pathogen, preventing potential cross-infection of another patient.

Dr Kevin Auton, commercial director of Universal Sensors said that an extensive consultation process was undertaken in parallel with the scientific development.

"We listened to senior staff from 20 different NHS trusts so that we could fully understand the requirements of the many different healthcare workers that are involved in infection control. At present, environmental tests are sent to a centralised laboratory and the results take several days to come back. The consensus was that if it was possible to perform the tests on the hospital ward this would significantly improve the speed and quality of decision making."

The focus groups revealed that any device has to be easy to use and provide an objective reading. They also indicated that there were at least two different types of users: the lead infection control specialists who see the device as a way of assisting best practice, and the cleaning contractors and facilities managers, who viewed it as a way of validating their performance. The final design must address the needs of all its users.

Based in Cambridge, Universal Sensors is the developer of Vantix, a unique biosensor platform technology that can be used to improve the performance and delivery of a wide range of existing tests. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Sensortec Group, with a unique patent-protected technology that has been well proven across a range of assays. The production of its Vantix biosensors can be scaled to meet the highest manufacturing volume needed.

18th October 2010

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