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Rapid, robust, low-cost microbial identification device for developing countries

​CEA-Leti and CEA-Irig developed a lensless imager that will be modified for use in sub-Saharan Africa, with its particularly harsh climate. The low-cost device can rapidly identify bacterial strains.

Published on 5 May 2022

​Antimicrobial resistance is rapidly becoming a major public health problem. According to the WHO, if nothing is done, drug-resistant diseases will cause ten million deaths annually by 2050. The mass spectrometry techniques generally used to identify bacteria require expensive equipment—too expensive for developing countries. A fast, effective, and affordable diagnostic system could be a game changer in certain parts of the world.  Years of CEA research led to the development of LensFree, a lensless imaging system. In research for the EU Simble project, the CEA is now adapting its device for use in sub-Saharan Africa.

In this new device, bacterial colonies are illuminated by a semi-coherent light source, scattering the light into a unique optical signature, which is then analyzed to identify the strain. Specifically, the diffraction patterns characteristic of each strain are recorded on a CMOS sensor, and then analyzed by artificial intelligence algorithms. When a database of lab strains is used, the algorithms are more than 95% accurate. Their performance will only improve as they encounter a wider and wider diversity of samples. The device itself will be "tropicalized." This means it will be adapted to withstand exposure to dust and moisture and be able to operate off an unstable power supply.

The cell cultures required for conventional spectrometry take 24 hours; this low-cost device is faster and should help identify bacteria early so that the best treatment can be prescribed. If it turns out to be fast and effective, it will be rolled out initially in Burkina Faso and Benin. Ultimately, however, it could be used beyond the developing world. 

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