Medical Discovery News

Rapid Detection of Bacteria

July 19, 2023 Medical Discovery News Season 18 Episode 870
Show Notes Transcript

Rapid Detection of Bacteria

Welcome to Medical Discovery News.  I’m Dr David Niesel. 

And I’m Dr. Norbert Herzog

When you have a life-threatening infection, you may not have hours to wait for lab results that tell doctors which bacteria is making you sick. 

It can take up to twenty-four hours, but now a new technology is slashing that time. 

What normally happens is a patient’s blood or other bodily fluids is sent to a lab to be cultured. Once the microbes multiply enough to form a colony, they can be identified. 

So, clearly how quickly bacteria grow impacts a patient’s outcome. Many can grow from one to a billion cells in sixteen hours to form a colony. But tuberculosis takes up to a month to do that!

The new approach is called Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy or SERS which is able to detect bacteria directly in complex fluids like blood. This means not waiting for the bacteria in the sample to grow!   

SERS can detect extremely small amounts of bacteria. First a bioprinter places tiny volumes of blood on a microscopic slide like an inkjet printer and each spot of blood contains just a few cells. So, it’s not visible to the naked eye. 

Then a laser scans the slides and the scattered light is collected in detectors. Each microbe gives off a unique light pattern that the machine learning AI can use to identify specific microbes. It identifies the bacterium and the antibiotics it’s resistant to.   

That’s way faster than how it’s done now. Scientists are evaluating how well SERS can work with a variety of bodily fluids.  Faster identification will save many lives. 

We are Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, at UTMB and Quinnipiac University, where biomedical discoveries shape the future of medicine.   For much more and our disclaimer go to or subscribe to our podcast. Sign up for expanded print episodes at