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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S026215/1
Title: Bio-Inspired Fluorescent Carbon Dots as Probes for Rapid Detection of Bacteria in Physiological Samples
Principal Investigator: Galan, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Spencer, Dr J
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Fluoretiq Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust North Bristol NHS Trust
Department: Chemistry
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 April 2019 Ends: 31 March 2023 Value (£): 905,400
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biological & Medicinal Chem. Chemical Biology
Med.Instrument.Device& Equip.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
05 Feb 2019 Healthcare Impact Partnership February 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Bacterial infections have great public health and economic impact. While at present most can be treated with antibiotics, doing so requires cases of bacterial infections to be recognised early so that they can be treated with the right drugs, while ensuring that antibiotics are not given unnecessarily. With the growth in antibiotic resistance, it is becoming essential that we use these drugs appropriately. At present growth of organisms from patient samples (e.g. urine), a process which takes 18 hours or more, is usually required before specific infecting bacteria can identified. A device able to rapidly detect the presence of bacteria in such samples, and identify which species are present, without this growth step would enable doctors to make rapid and informed decisions about when antibiotic treatment is necessary and which drug should be used.

Here we propose to develop and evaluate a technology for identifying bacteria in patient samples. We will combine a novel series of chemical probes (fluorescent carbon dots, FCDs) that can attach to bacteria to make them fluorescent, with an ultra-sensitive quantum photonic sensor (QPS) developed by our industrial partner, FluoretiQ Ltd., that is able to detect these fluorescent bacteria in patient samples. In order to identify individual species of bacteria we will attach specific sugars (glycans) to the surface of FCDs, exploiting the fact that different bacteria recognise particular sugar molecules as part of the process of binding to the cells of their host. We base our trials around E coli bacteria causing urinary tract infections as these are common conditions that create high workloads for NHS laboratories (our clinical partner processes up to 1000 urine samples per day) and if improperly treated can lead to severe conditions such as sepsis.

We will test this methodology by assessing in the laboratory whether specific bacteria can bind to specific glycan-FCDs. A second series of laboratory experiments will then seek to replicate patient samples by suspending bacteria derived from patients, and cultured human cells, in liquid media designed to mimic the composition of human urine and testing whether glycan-FCDs bind bacteria under these conditions. Finally, with support from clinical microbiologists, we will test whether the glycan-FCD/QPS method can detect and identify bacteria in urine samples from human patients and evaluate its effectiveness compared to methods currently in use. As future users they will also help us to optimise the method and associated instrumentation to ensure that this can be used easily in the clinical laboratory, and provide guidance on how to ensure that our method can be validated against appropriate comparators and demonstrated to comply with NHS quality management systems.

In parallel we will test whether glycan-FCDs can be used as the basis for new treatments for bacterial infections. We have already demonstrated that FCDs can bind to and enter bacteria; preliminary experiments show that they can also kill bacteria, in a light-dependent process. Hence we will investigate whether our modified glycan-FCDs retain the ability to kill bacteria, and whether this killing is specific to the species targeted by the particular surface sugar. We will also attach antibiotics to the surface of FCDs to test whether this represents a method to deliver drugs to specific bacteria, many of which are difficult to kill with antibiotics because the drug is unable to enter the bacterial cell.

The project will establish whether glycan-FCDs can form the basis of a rapid method for detecting infecting bacteria in patient samples in the clinical microbiology laboratory, and whether these can also be used to improve the effectiveness of antibiotics against many of these organisms. In so doing we will also develop new methods for synthesising complex sugar molecules that may be applied in multiple other research areas including drug and vaccine development.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk