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UMBC prof pursues faster, cheaper STI test

Daniel Leaderman//December 28, 2015

UMBC prof pursues faster, cheaper STI test

By Daniel Leaderman

//December 28, 2015

Microwave-enhanced tests may hold the key to faster diagnosis of some sexually-transmitted infections, according to a researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Chris D. Geddes (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)
Chris D. Geddes (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Faster results can lead to both lower health care costs and a healthier overall population, said Chris D. Geddes, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the university’s Institute of Fluorescence.

The test Geddes is developing uses microwaves and special metal surfaces to accelerate biological reactions. While traditional STI tests require bacteria samples to grow in a lab before they can be identified — a process than can take a few days — Geddes says his team’s test can detect gonorrhea and chlamydia in about eight minutes.

“The significance of this, I don’t think can be overstated,” Geddes said. “There are no tests that are low-cost and very rapid.”

Perfecting an STI test that can deliver results at the point of care has three main benefits, Geddes said.

It can prevent patients from spreading the infection while waiting for test results; it can reduce the burden on the health care and insurance systems by avoiding the need for costly lab work; and it can make sure that the right medications are prescribed to treat the right infection, he said.

The microwave-accelerated test not only can detect the presence of chlamydia or gonorrhea but can determine the specific strain. This allows doctors to treat each case correctly and not risk building the resistance of the strains by exposing them to ineffective medications, Geddes said. There are already strains of gonorrhea for which there is no treatment, he said.

Each test costs about $1, but the price could be even lower once the test is commercialized, Geddes said. The test is still a few years away from the market, and Geddes said he doesn’t yet know whether he’ll create a new company or license the test to an existing company.

A study using 257 samples found that the results of the microwave-accelerated test matched the results found with traditional chlamydia tests more than 90 percent of the time. That figure is very encouraging, but further study with a larger sample size is needed, Geddes said.

This summer, the National Institutes of Health approved an 1,800-sample clinical trial of samples from patients tested in Baltimore and Cincinnati. Geddes said he expects results of the study in about two years.

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial STI in the United States, with an estimated 2.86 million new infections each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people with chlamydia have no symptoms, but the infection can still cause permanent damage to womens’ reproductive organs and newborns can suffer complications if their mothers have chlamydia. The CDC recommends that all sexually active women under age 25 be tested for the infection annually.


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