New Pathogen-Identification Method Leads to Cost Savings: Study

A new technology, called MALDI-TOF MS, that identifies bacteria and fungi in patient specimens, is more efficient and cost-effective than conventional methods, according to a study by researchers at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill.

MALDI-TOF stands for Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization-Time of Flight mass spectrometry. It analyzes proteins from specimens and identifies them by comparing them to known microorganisms in a database, according to a news release.

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Use of the technology led to a 92 percent cost reduction in reagents needed for clinical microbiology tests, and lab techs were able to identify pathogens in roughly an hour, compared with the day or more it usually takes with conventional methods.

Researchers led a cost-analysis study from April 1, 2013 to March 31, identifying specific microorganisms from 21,930 patients at UNC Hospitals using the MALDI-TOF technology. Usually, identifying 21,930 specimens would cost $84,491 in reagents — with the new technology, the cost of materials was just $6,496.

"I don't like to use the word 'revolutionize,' but this technology has revolutionized our lab. We can diagnose infection more efficiently and treat patients much quicker, both of which help decrease healthcare costs," said Peter Gilligan, PhD, director of Clinical Microbiology-Immunology Laboratories at UNC Hospitals, in the release.

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