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Health Team

Technology taking the wait out of lab test results

Posted June 11

The standard way to test a patient's fluid or tissue samples requires incubation time for lab cultures. That means a day or longer before patient get test results back.

But a new method is speeding up the process, saving time and money.

Microbiologists at UNC Hospitals led a cost-analysis study using mass spectrometry to identify micro-organisms.

“With this technology – mass spec – we can actually identify a micro-organism in minutes,” said Dr. Peter Gilligan, director of the Clinical Microbiology and Immunology Laboratories at UNC.

Dr. Anthony Tran demonstrates the technology, putting a disposable slide into a machine where a laser will ionize a sample and release proteins into a detector.

The results show up on a computer.

“Each micro-organism has a basic fingerprint, and we have fingerprints on file on which we can compare them,” Gilligan said.

The results of the sample reveal two specific bacteria with 99.9 percent degree of confidence. The process took about five minutes.

“It is revolutionary, from a microbiology point of view,” Gilligan said.

The study showed the savings in time and materials add up to more than $100,000 per year.

“And we were able to provide much better data for physicians to help them take care of our patients, which is really our major goal,” Gilligan said.

He and Tran presented their findings at the 2014 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston on May 18.

A current UNC study is looking at exactly how much the faster lab results actually help improve patient care in terms of helping them get better quicker and out of the hospital sooner.

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