New Technology Identifies Bacterial Infections Faster

July 11, 2012

Children’s Medical Center ( has launched new technology that will diagnose specific bacterial infections much faster than in years past.

E. Coli, staph infections, salmonella and causes of bacterial pneumonia will be identified in about a day by the new mass spectrometer, which also can positively identify and pinpoint the causes of sepsis in just 30 minutes, significantly cutting the two- to three-day wait previously required for such diagnoses.

Children’s Medical Center is only the third pediatric hospital in the nation and the first in the Southwest to acquire the groundbreaking technology.

As a result, patients and their families will experience less suffering, shorter hospital stays, lower hospital bills and more precise medical care. The new tool could cut bacterial testing costs by 90 to 95 percent, clinicians said.

“The implications are significant,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of Children’s Infectious Diseases Division and a UT Southwestern Medical Center professor of pediatrics and microbiology. “Using this technology … will undoubtedly lead to better outcomes.”

Instead of waiting three days for bacterial samples to grow, the new equipment requires the samples to be grown only once and then analyzed by a laser light, which produces a protein profile or “fingerprint.” That sample is then automatically checked against a database of stored protein profiles with hopes of producing an exact match – a process that takes only a couple of minutes.

The new technology also will be used to rapidly identify the infectious exacerbations of cystic fibrosis. And it will enable the lab to identify the causes of sepsis, a potentially deadly yeast infection in the bloodstream, in as quickly as 30 minutes. This could help patients with sepsis avoid an $1,800 therapy treatment that has significant side effects.

“When diagnosing infection, faster is always better,” said Dr. Christopher Doern, Children’s Medical Center’s director of clinical microbiology in the lab and an assistant professor of pathology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The technology is known as MALDI-TOF – matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization Time of Flight.

The new equipment is estimated to assess about 90 percent of the 10,000 bacterial and yeast identifications done in the hospital’s microbiology lab each year. Each test will cost only 50 cents, a sharp reduction from the prior costs of $5 to $10 each.

About Children's Medical Center

Children's Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit system, and is the fifth-largest pediatric healthcare provider in the country with 559 licensed beds, two full-service campuses and 10 outpatient sites. Children’s was the state’s first pediatric hospital to achieve Level 1 Trauma status and is the only pediatric teaching facility in North Texas, affiliated with UT Southwestern Medical Center. For more information about Children’s or how to give, please visit