A PROMPT, low-cost platform speeds up gonorrhea testing and spots antibiotic resistance
A portable, rapid testing platform can detect gonorrhea infections in patient samples in under 15 minutes, far faster than standard-of-care tests that can take hours or days. The platform accurately detected infections and determined resistance to a common antibiotic in 217 patient samples from sexual health clinics in Baltimore and Uganda. The technology’s speed and low cost could empower quicker and more affordable gonorrhea testing in low-resource regions, as well as help combat the spread of drug-resistant strains. Rates of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have soared worldwide, and an estimated 1 million people now acquire an STI every day globally. Clinicians are especially concerned about gonorrhea, as Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria are rapidly becoming resistant to standard antibiotics. Furthermore, current tests for gonorrhea are expensive and take hours to complete, making it harder for patients to receive a timely diagnosis and appropriate antibiotics. There is therefore an urgent need for faster and cheaper testing, especially in low-income countries that lack testing capabilities and face a high burden of drug-resistant infections. Alexander Trick and colleagues present their PROMPT platform, a cartridge-based PCR testing device that both detects N. gonorrhoeae and analyzes the bacteria’s resistance to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. When applied to 66 penile swab samples from Baltimore, MD and 151 swab samples from Kampala, Uganda, PROMPT detected infections in under 15 minutes with a sensitivity and specificity of 97.7% and 97.6%, respectively. Trick et al. note their study has limitations, as more work is needed to test the platform with vaginal and urine samples and to improve the cartridge system. “Nonetheless, [these] advances … show promise for delivering rapid, gold standard infectious disease diagnostics in a scalable and accessible format …” the authors conclude.