New Tool Helps UAMS Identify Microorganisms Faster

LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) - The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) recently became the first hospital in Arkansas to acquire a breakthrough device that can identify microorganisms in a fraction of the time and cost of conventional diagnostic methods.  

The recent purchase of a matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometer, or MALDI-TOF, is making obsolete some age-old clinical microbiology lab techniques at UAMS, said Eric Rosenbaum, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of the UAMS Clinical Microbiology Laboratory. 

UAMS is also the first in Arkansas to purchase a companion to the MALDI-TOF, called the PreviIsola, Rosenbaum said. This new tool introduces lab automation into UAMS’ microbiology laboratory, an area that has been difficult to automate.  

The MALDI-TOF can identify 192 bacterial colonies within minutes. That compares to hours and often days using conventional analytic methods that are standard in the majority of laboratories around the world. 

“UAMS is leading the way in our state by bringing the most advanced forms of specimen processing to microbiology,” Rosenbaum said. 

MALDI-TOF is a nearly instantaneous one-step process that eliminates the time-consuming tasks of tracking how bacteria colonies metabolize various sugars or how well a bacteria colony grows on different types of media. 

The new device allows a laboratory analyst to simply gather a small amount of a bacterial colony, place it on a slide, and cover the colony with a protective matrix compound. After the slide is loaded into the MALDI-TOF instrument, a laser is fired at the sample, releasing a plume of ionized particles from the specimen that travels through a time-of-flight (TOF) chamber until the particles reach a sensor. Each bacterium, yeast, and fungus analyzed produces a unique spectral “fingerprint” on the sensor that is matched to a database. The result is instant identification. 

“This is the first fundamental breakthrough in the field of microbiology since the days of Louis Pasteur,” Rosenbaum said of the renowned microbiologist and chemist.  

In addition to helping UAMS, the MALDI-TOF device will be offered as a diagnostic service and resource for other Arkansas hospitals, serving as an alternative to the large commercial laboratories in other states.  

“UAMS microbiology is a place hospitals in our region can turn to when they need expert consultation,” he said. 

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