Sensor with laser light detects low levels of antibiotics

Date: 4 October 2017

Introduction: UAntwerp and Seton Hall University scientists develop a new technology and weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Karolien De WaelThe fight against excessive and incorrect use of antibiotics is far from over. A new high-tech sensor, developed at the University of Antwerp under the supervision of Karolien De Wael, looks set to make detecting antibiotics much easier. Tests in waste water or on farms, for example, can now be performed on the spot.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. Researchers estimate that in 2050, almost 10 million people around the world will die from ‘anti-microbial resistance’ every year. People are gradually becoming aware that we have to change how we use antibiotics, but we still have a long way to go.

One of the major challenges is the detection of unintentional and even illegal antibiotic use, for example in companies’ waste water. "We have been testing this for a while already, but such tests take several hours", says Prof Karolien De Wael (UAntwerp, AXES research group). "Moreover, with the current methods it is difficult to say on-site which antibiotics have actually been detected."

This will now change thanks to new research by De Wael and her American colleague Sergiu M. Gorun (Seton Hall University) with financial support from UAntwerp and the US National Science Foundation. "We developed a technique for detecting antibiotics using laser light," the Antwerp chemistry professor explains. "With a sensor strip a few centimetres long, a red laser pointer and a readout device, we can perform measurements on-the-spot."

This new technology makes it possible to detect very low concentrations at nano-molecular level – a potentially effective weapon in the fight against antibiotic misuse. De Wael: "This new technology also opens many doors in other areas. For example, it could be used to detect biomarkers that flag up cancer or cardiovascular diseases."

The research carried out by these Antwerp and American scientists has been published in the specialist journal Nature Communications.

Sensor with laser light
Sensor with laser light detects low levels of antibiotics