Researchers at Westmead Millennium Institute have discovered a safe, non-surgical method of identifying brain infections such as brain abscess, and an accurate and rapid way of diagnosing meningitis.
Several hundred serious brain infections such as abscesses and meningitis are diagnosed in Australians every year. Neurological infections require immediate identification and treatment, however doctors have always faced difficulty in accurately and rapidly diagnosing an infection, in both children and adults.
Professor Tania Sorrell and her team at the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Westmead Millennium Institute have come up with a safe and simple ways of distinguishing between brain tumour and different types of brain infections, and for rapidly diagnosing cases of meningitis.
Currently available tests such as CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) cannot clearly distinguish between different brain infections and other brain disorders such as tumours. This means patients often have to undergo invasive and dangerous brain surgery to diagnose their illness before treatment with antibiotics can begin.
Using standard hospital MRI equipment, clinicians can now use a technique called Magnetic Resonance Spectrometry (MRS) to accurately and quickly differentiate between tumour and infection. As technology advances, and hospitals obtain more powerful MRI equipment, doctors will also be able to identify the type of infection, meaning patients can receive immediate treatment.
"When diagnosing bacterial or viral brain infections, accuracy and speed are vitally important" says chief investigator Professor Tania Sorrell.
"In the past, patients who may have been successfully treated with something as simple as antibiotics have had to go through general anaesthesia and risky brain surgery before treatment has started. Our research will enable these dangerous infections to be picked up quickly, simply and cost effectively"
"The same kind of test on spinal fluid samples can be used to rapidly diagnose meningitis, a particular problem in children, leading to more targeted treatment and better outcomes"
This research was recently named one of the ten best in Australia by the National Health and Medical Research Council.