New electrochemical method developed at UTSA to test the presence of a bacterial infection is faster and more accurate than methods currently on the market. Credit: The University of Texas at San Antonio

Scientists are working on a new way of testing whether or not a bacterial infection is present and how severe it is.

A team from the University of Texas San Antonio has developed a new method which combines a test strip with a computer program to show quickly and accurately whether a person has been infected by harmful bacteria or other pathogen, as well as the exact severity of the infection.

The researchers took an electrochemical approach by creating molecules that bind to leukocytes, or white blood cell enzymes, and produce an electrical current to signal the presence of an infection.

They then housed the new molecules on a testing strip that was connected to a computer monitor. When infected bodily fluids contact the strip, the monitor will display a clear range of electrochemical responses demonstrating the severity of the infection.

This improves are current methods, said Stanton McHardy, associate professor of research in chemistry and director of the UTSA Center for Innovative Drug Discovery.

“The signs and symptoms people demonstrate aren't always reflective of the level of the infection they have,” Stanton McHardy, in a statement. “This device could very easily show just how serious an infection is and make diagnosis a much quicker process, possibly preventing a more serious illness.” 

Currently, doctors test for infections with a strip that will turn a certain color to indicate that infected fluids came into contact with it. However, about a third of the samples cannot be tested because the fluids contain blood or are too opaque.

“The problem with this method is that it's imprecise,” Waldemar Gorski, professor and chair of the UTSA Department of Chemistry, said in a statement. “The human eye is forced to judge the level of infection based on the hue and deepness of a color. It's difficult to make an accurate call based on that.”

Other methods to test for an infection include microbiology or examining bodily fluid samples under a microscope and counting leukocytes. However, this can be slow to process and require more highly trained personnel.

The study was published in ChemBioChem