The excessive use of antibiotics in human medicine and livestock breeding has led to a dramatic increase of drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals
New and cost-effective tests for the early detection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are urgently needed. A large number of these tests have to be done when developing new drugs to determine the effects of new substances during the early stages of development.
Austrian research company Joanneum Research is co-ordinating the EU R2R Biofluidics project, which utilises mini-labs made from micro- and nanostructured polymers to detect life-threatening bacteria and enable the development of better-targeted treatments.
A cost-effective test to detect MRSA is urgently needed because, in the EU alone, approximately 50,000 deaths per year are caused by this type of infection. It is estimated that approximately 30% of people carry certain MRSA-strains on their skin or in their nose without triggering any symptoms in healthy individuals. However, in people with a weakened immune system, such as hospitalised patients, MRSA bacteria may lead to serious problems.
Medical device manufacturers in the in vitro diagnostics sector are interested in micro- and nanostructured polymers for future bioanalytical equipment to detect such life-threatening bacteria.
It is possible to manufacture highly cost-effective and large-scale sheets of flexible polymer film with extremely precise structures on a micro- and nanoscale by using roll-to-roll (R2R) printing technology. The Institute for Surface Technologies and Photonics at Joanneum Research has developed such a roll-to-roll UV nano-imprint lithography unit, which is unique in Europe. The R2R process allows the large-scale production of functional microfluidic structures, thus dramatically reducing the unit price.
In the project, an in vitro diagnostic system to identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be developed; additional optical nanostructures will allow the detection of bacteria at much lower concentrations. Another aspect of the project will aim to create an in vitro test method for the development of new active pharmaceutical substances in drugs. Nerve cells will be fixed to a structured substrate and the modified surface will be used to induce a predefined and structured growth, thus allowing the precise determination of the effect of potential drugs on these immobilised cells.