New mass spectrometry helps identify bacteria in clinical specimens within minutes

New mass spectrometry technology is helping Le Bonheur Children's physicians analyze microbiology samples quickly - identifying specific bacteria present in a sample within minutes.

Le Bonheur is one of a handful of children's hospitals using the technology to analyze samples.

"We can cut hours out of our analysis with mass spectrometry," said Royce Joyner, MD, medical director of Laboratories at Le Bonheur. The alternative method for bacterial identification is Gram stain technique, which can only determine broad groupings of microorganisms.

Because false positive results can be ruled out more quickly with mass spectrometry, families can be saved the stress of a possible septicemia, says Le Bonheur Infectious Disease Lab Manager Tekita McKinney. True positives can be confirmed in minutes, speeding up the treatment process.

"This equipment has the potential to help improve patient care, by substantially decreasing the time it takes to identify bacteria in clinical specimens. This, in turn, will enable clinicians to more rapidly decide which antibiotics (if any) are best suited for their patients," said Le Bonheur Infectious Disease Specialist Steve Buckingham, MD. "We are excited about implementing this cutting-edge technology, which is only the latest step in our ongoing effort to optimize patient care."

Mass spectrometry works by using laser beam to disrupt and ionize proteins in the bacteria - a process called matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization. Proteins are then measured for mass and charge - the ratio of which determines a culture's peaks or spectra. The mass spectrometer's library of peak signatures identifies the type of bacteria in the sample.

Mass spectrometry has, for a long time, been used in chemistry and toxicology and is a common tool in forensics. The technique is relatively new to the field of microbiology and will have a positive impact on health care, says Joyner.


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