A team of medical scientists led by Professor Stephen Gillespie of the Infection Group at University of St Andrews have won a prestigious international award for a breakthrough that could help the fight against antibiotic resistance.

The UN has identified antibiotic resistant bacteria as a major threat to global health – with an estimated $50 trillion price tag for health care if nothing is done about it.

The Orbital Diagnostics team at St Andrews have developed a device – the Scattered Light Integrated Collector (SLIC) – to reduce the time taken to test bacteria for resistance.  Current testing frequently takes 24 hours to produce a result, the SLIC team can produce a similar result in around 20 minutes.

The new tool aims to help patients get the right treatment faster.  This reduces risk of antibiotic resistance by helping ensure bacteria are not exposed to antibiotics unnecessarily.

At an award ceremony held in London at the Royal Society, members of the St Andrews team were presented with a prestigious Longitude Prize Discovery Award.

20161121_200927-K1024-175x300

The prize will help the team develop a device that can challenge for the coveted Longitude Prize, a challenge with a £10 million prize fund to reward a point of care diagnostic test that helps solve the global problem of bacterial antibiotic resistance.

Team leader Professor Stephen Gillespie, Sir James Black Professor of Medicine at St Andrews, said:

“Our very sensitive device detects bacteria in very small numbers. This means when they grow in the presence of antibiotics, we can show that quickly.  Conventional tests take up to 24 hours – for some bugs we can now do the same job in less than 20 minutes”.

“At the moment this promising test can only be used in the laboratory.  The challenge is to turn it into a test that can be used in a doctor’s surgery or a pharmacy.”

Dr Robert Hammond, co-inventor and senior scientist said:

“We aim to develop SLIC to enable a person with a suspected urinary [tract] infection to give a sample to a practice nurse or pharmacist – then within two hours be given an antibiotic prescription knowing that the infecting bacteria are susceptible.  This will be faster and better for the individual.  It will mean that fewer unnecessary prescriptions will be issued, reducing chances that bugs will develop resistance.”

The Orbital Diagnostics team is supported by Scottish Enterprise to form a company that will take the SLIC device to market.

Eleanor Mitchell, High Growth Ventures Director at Scottish Enterprise said:

“This prestigious award is fantastic recognition of Orbital Diagnostics’ strong progress in developing the SLIC device which has significant global market potential.  Scottish Enterprise is delighted to be supporting the team to commercialise this emerging technology which exemplifies the strength of innovation in Scotland’s healthcare sector.”

You can visit the Discovery Awards blog which provides more information on the winning teams and the awards evening.

Photographs of the team are available. Professor Gillespie is available for interview. Contact Communications Office on 01334 467310 or proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk.