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A new type of lab on a chip has the potential to become a clinical tool capable of detecting very small quantities of disease-causing bacteria in just minutes. The device is made of nanosized “islands,” about one-tenth of the thickness of a single human hair, which act as bacterial traps or snares.

Very small quantities of disease-causing bacteria are detected in minutes. (Credit: McGill University)

The team was able to demonstrate that the system is capable of analyzing very small volumes of culture media containing bacteria such as E. coli and a strain of S. aureus resistant to methicillin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections.

With a fluorescent microscope, the device can confirm the presence of bacteria in just a few minutes. The researchers hope one day clinicians will use the device to deliver faster diagnostics, start treatment much more quickly, and, ultimately, save lives.

The researchers hope to test their device on clinical samples, a necessary step before doctors are able to use such a device in a hospital setting. Theoretically, this new lab-on-a-chip, which is relatively inexpensive and easy to make, could also analyze samples from urine, blood, or nasal swabs.

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