Rapid point of care identification of bacterial infections is a difficult goal in many cases, with laboratories around the world mainly depending on culturing that can take days.
Other option for pathology labs is to employ real-time polymerase chain reaction, but it can be too expensive for many clinics. Now scientists the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a new device that can identify the strain of a bacterial pathogen from a single example of the microorganism.
The device known as quantitative phase imaging unit (QPIU) can convert a traditional microscope into one capable of doing microscopic holography. The new imaging technique is based on illuminating the bacterium with laser light and analyzing the resulting hologram using special computer algorithms.
The holograms are processed with Fourier transforms and then compared to previously obtained scans of known bacteria. The team of researchers tested their approach on four visually nearly identical rod-shaped bacteria, three of which are responsible for disease and one that's benign.
They demonstrated that while it's nearly impossible to differentiate them using standard microscopy, their new technique was very effective at recognizing which is which.
The researchers are now planning a trip to Tanzania next month to field test the technology in a real-world setting where it will be particularly beneficial.
The study was published in the journal Optics Express.