How DNA tests can help physicians detect infectious diseases faster

Hospitals are starting to look to genetic sequencing services to identify pathogens that make patients sick, Wired reports.

Karius, a life sciences company focusing on infectious disease diagnostics with genomics, uses DNA tests that can deliver results quicker than traditional lab methods.

"This is pretty bleeding-edge stuff," said Joel Dudley, PhD, director of the Mount Sinai Institute for Next Generation Healthcare in New York City.

But if scientists look to sequencing and software to identify microbes from DNA alone, they first need to develop massive genetic databases that evolve with the pathogens.

"We're just beginning to get data sets big enough to have clinical utility," Dr. Dudley said. "So there's still work to be done. But it's a very promising approach for getting diagnoses more quickly."

Traditional lab tests require nurturing bacteria in a warm salt-sugar bath for days, and physicians routinely start patients on an intense antibiotics course as they await the results, fueling antibiotic resistance. 

"The pharma industry worked so hard to brew all these great therapies, but we don't know which ones to use," said Karius co-founder and CEO Mickey Kertesz. "If we can cover a broad range of microbes in a single test, then we can look at everything at once and only treat what shows up. That would be a huge paradigm shift from how [infectious disease physicians] currently think."

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:
'AI Clinician' outperforms physicians in treating sepsis patients
CareChex: Top 10 quality hospitals for overall hospital care 2019
Care concerns emerge from Missouri's 'assistant physician' licensure program

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