In the genes

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Published: October 17, 2015 2:31:27 AM

Research into genetic signature of infections in patients could help curb drug resistance

With the World Health Organization flagging antibiotic resistance as a serious global threat, the need to come up with methods to control antibiotic abuse—one of the chief reasons behind galloping resistance—is being felt with renewed force. A new diagnostic line discovered by researchers at the US-based Duke Center for Applied
Genomic and Precision Medicine, that tracks the the genetic signature of a patient’s immune response to an infection to reveal whether the infection is bacterial, therefore, could go a long way in preventing reckless use.

Rapid detection tests, used to detect common pathogens miss more than 50% of infections and are plagued with false positives. Thus, it has become common practice for doctors worldwide to prescribe antibiotics as a first-line of treatment, sometimes even before confirmatory tests are carried out. This has fanned resistance, and in India, the percentage of Klebsiella pneumoniae infections resistant to carbapenem drugs have risen from 29% in 2008 to 57% in 2014. Though the Duke team’s hypothesis—that specific changes in gene activity will betray the type of infection in a patient—has found acceptance among peers, Nature reports, it is still far away from rigorous clinical validation as it has to be tested against different population groups worldwide before it can be established that people respond to bacterial infections in the same manner—and always differently from those caused by viruses or other pathogens. Nevertheless, the results of the Duke team’s research are very encouraging and should offer hope for curing resistance.

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