The detection of allergies to antibiotics is currently conducted with a series of in vivo skin tests; they are invasive, and as such, entail inconveniences. Although in vitro methods do exist, they are not sufficiently sensitive, and can lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. Furthermore, only a small number of allergens are analyzed, and tests are slow and expensive.
To combat these deficiencies, European researchers headed by Valencia's Polytechnic University (UPV), have developed a biophotonic system of low cost and high sensitivity which makes it possible to detect, in a non-invasive way and with a very small sample of blood, allergies to antibiotics such as amoxicillin or penicillin in less than an hour. It is the result of European project Cobiophad.
The device is based on compact disc technology; it includes a microfluid disc - into which the samples to be analyzed are injected -, a disc drive and a software which enables processing of the trial and provides results for the medical experts.
As well as its high sensitivity, low cost and speed, this prototype stands out because it is able to detect with one sample up to ten allergies to beta-lactam antibiotics, including amoxicillin, penicillin and clavulanic acid. It can simultaneously analyze up to six different samples.
"The analysis is very simple. Once the sample is loaded on to the disc, it is placed in the drive. From the interaction between the sample and the reactive agents, the result that will help doctors diagnose whether the patient is allergic or not is obtained. All in less than an hour," highlights ángel Maquieira, researcher for the Inter-university Institute of Molecular Recognition and Technological Development (IDM) of the UPV.
First tests in the UPV
This new antibiotic allergy test is being validated in the UPV installations. The partners of the Cobiophad project have convened at the UPV to verify the capabilities of the device with real trials, with medical staff from Valencia's Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe and from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire of Montpelier, France. Both are international benchmarks in regards to allergies, and their participation in the project has consisted on providing cases, developing bioreactive substances and, now, conducting the clinical validation of this diagnostic technique.
After the tests at the UPV, in coming months the device developed in the framework of this project will start being used in the Hospital Universitari i Politècnic La Fe.
Ethal Ibáñez, allergist at the Valencian hospital and member of the Cobiophad team, believes that this device can facilitate and significantly cheapen the diagnosis of antibiotic allergies, while also decreasing the inconveniences and risks for patients.
"At the moment, the diagnosis starts with the patient's medical history and then, depending on the risk they may have, the skin tests are carried out. They are invasive tests, which can entail a series of risks; furthermore, we do analytic and exposure tests to the medicine, supplying it to the patient orally, which entails a greater risk than the skin tests. All these tests also require the corresponding commutes. The device that has been developed in this project is much safer, faster and generates far fewer costs. At the moment when the patient comes to the practice, with a very small blood sample - 25 microlitres - we can learn whether they are allergic or not," explains Ethel Ibáñez.