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Researchers Develop First App-Based Rapid Gonorrhea Test
  • Cara Murez
  • Posted May 13, 2021

Researchers Develop First App-Based Rapid Gonorrhea Test

Researchers say they have developed a rapid test for gonorrhea that could help reduce the spread of the sexually transmitted disease.

The test consists of an inexpensive, portable device and a cellphone app that will diagnose gonorrhea in less than 15 minutes. It can also determine whether the strain of the infection will respond to frontline antibiotics.

"Our portable, inexpensive testing platform has the potential to change the game when it comes to diagnosing and enabling rapid treatment of sexually transmitted infections," said team leader Tza-Huei Wang.

"It ensures that patients are diagnosed on the spot, and treatment can begin immediately, improving clinical outcomes. This will be especially valuable in low-resource settings, where well-equipped laboratories are not always available to every patient," added Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, in Baltimore.

Traditional testing at a hospital or clinic may take up to a week for results, during which time an infected person might unknowingly spread the STD, the research team noted.

Taking the test is a simple process. A swab with the patient's body fluid is mixed with a solution in a tube. The solution contains magnetic particles. A drop of that mixture is loaded into a cartridge, which snaps into the device, called PROMPT.

The device transfers the magnetized particles to reagents in the cartridge for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. PCR testing -- hailed as the gold standard in COVID-19 testing -- enables scientists to take tiny samples of DNA and amplify them to study in detail.

The results then appear on the cellphone screen.

The device runs on a five-volt battery and includes cartridges that cost about $2.

PROMPT detected the most common strain of gonorrhea about 97% of the time during testing in clinics in Baltimore and Kampala, Uganda, the researchers said. It was 100% accurate in determining whether the tested strain of gonorrhea would respond to ciprofloxacin, a medication that targets infections that are resistant to other antibiotics.

"Our test maintains the same sensitivity and specificity currently used in hospital and clinic labs but reduces the cost and time involved," team member Alex Trick, a Johns Hopkins graduate student in biomedical engineering, said in a Hopkins news release. "We want these diagnostics to be available to all people who need it, when they need it."

Gonorrhea is a potentially devastating sexually transmitted disease that has shown increasing antibiotic resistance. More than 87 million people worldwide have it.

Wang and his team now plan to work through regulatory approval, manufacturing, and distribution.

"We expect to be able to deliver these products to those who can really benefit from them in two to three years," he said.

The findings were published May 12 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on gonorrhea.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, May 12, 2021

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