Burns victims can look forward to speedier recoveries thanks to European researchers who have identified the harmful bacteria or fungus that often lurk in burn wounds, causing infection and delaying the healing process. EU support for the research came from the WOUNDMONITOR ('Mobile system for non-invasive wound state monitoring') project, which received EUR 1.67 million from the 'Information society technologies' (IST) Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Until now, doctors have had to rely on microbiological tests to identify which bacteria cause infections in burns victims. This process was slow and time consuming. However, researchers from the Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK, led by a team from the University of Manchester's School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, have developed a small electronic device that can pinpoint the type of bacteria in just a few minutes. The device works by identifying the minute amounts of gas produced by bacteria in critically ill patients suffering from burns, chronic skin ulcers or serious wounds. It is vital that this bacteria is correctly identified as quickly as possible as only then can doctors select the appropriate treatment. Traditionally, medical students were taught to recognise bacterial infections by their odour. But the instrument developed by the WOUNDMONITOR team detects different types of bacteria from the smells emitted from the volatile gases they release. The team first identified three major types of bacteria that account for about 80% of the bacterial infections found in burns: staphylococcus, streptococcus, and pseudomonas. They then identified the volatile chemicals spread by the bacteria when they multiply. Armed with this information, the team designed the instrument - about the size of an A4 file - containing eight gas sensors. The pattern of the responses from the sensors represents the characteristics of the chemicals present, and by which the bacteria can be identified. This complex but very compact instrument has been tested in a hospital in Manchester and at Kaunas regional hospital in Lithuania. According to the researchers, the results produced during these tests have been so satisfactory that several commercial companies have already shown an interest in WOUNDMONITOR and negotiations are underway to allow the instrument to be used commercially. The quicker infections can be diagnosed, the faster patients can be treated, which can in turn lower the cost of lengthy hospital stays. Moreover, early diagnosis and treatment of infection in burn patients is critical if the patient is to enjoy a quick recovery. Globally, an estimated 6 million people suffer burns each year, and more than 4 000 people die in the EU annually because of accidents caused by fire. Many thousands more are hospitalised to receive treatment for burns. Most of the burns in the EU occur at home or at work and are more predominant among vulnerable groups like the elderly or young children. Indeed, children under the age of 4 and adults over 60 have a higher chance of complications and death from severe burns. 'Every summer we see images of people with terrible injuries caused in the home or by forest fires,' said European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes. 'Thanks to EU funding, the technology developed by WOUNDMONITOR will speed up the diagnosis time and help doctors to prescribe the appropriate treatment much faster.'
Germany, Italy, Lithuania