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Belfast scientists one-hour meningitis test hailed as life-saving breakthough

By Ella Pickover

Scientists from Queen's University, Belfast have come up with a new test which can identify potential cases of meningitis in a fraction of the current time.

Standard tests for meningococcal disease - which can lead to meningitis and blood poisoning - can take up to 48 hours for results to come back.

But a diagnostic tool created by experts at the Queen's campus and The Belfast Trust can provide results within an hour.

Researchers said the test could prevent children with meningococcal disease being wrongly sent home - potentially saving dozens of lives every year. It could also prevent children being admitted for treatment unnecessarily.

If medics suspect a child has meningococcal septicaemia they administer antibiotic treatment straight away - a study by the organisations found that of 105 babies and children treated for suspected meningococcal septicaemia, only a third were later found to be infected, meaning two-thirds received treatment unnecessarily.

The new diagnostic test - Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) - was assessed in a two-year study alongside the standard NHS tests. Researchers said the LAMP diagnostic tool proved to be as efficient as the standard test in returning accurate diagnosis.

Dr James McKenna, clinical scientist and lead researcher in developing LAMP, said: "The LAMP test enables doctors to efficiently diagnose meningococcal septicaemia within an hour.

"The LAMP diagnosis could significantly reduce the number of patients taking medication unnecessarily as well as preventing needless anxiety to patients and their families."

Dr Tom Waterfield is leading a new study at Queen's University in collaboration with the Paediatric Emergency Research UK and Ireland to assess the practicality of testing being undertaken by a clinician in a hospital environment.

He said: "We know that scientifically the test is effective, but we now need the evidence base to confirm whether it is feasible for clinicians to carry out this test as part of their role before an informed decision can be taken.

"As part of this study, we will evaluate the feasibility of clinicians using the LAMP test in a hospital setting by assessing any potential barriers and ease of use."

The findings come as health officials have urged students to get vaccinated to protect themselves against meningitis before starting university.

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