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Brussels, 12 August 2010

ICT research: EU funded WOUNDMONITOR helps pinpoint bacteria and speed up healing in burn victims

More than 4000 people die in the EU each year because of accidents caused by fire and many thousands more are hospitalised to receive treatment for burns. Thanks to EU-funded research, medical experts will be able to more quickly identify the harmful bacteria or fungus which may be lurking in the wounds of burn victims and causing an infection, speeding up the diagnostic and healing process by days. Until now, doctors have had to rely on microbiological tests that took several days to identify which bacteria were causing the infection. Researchers from Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK have developed a small electronic device which can pinpoint the type of bacteria in just a few minutes, by identifying the minute amounts of gas the bacteria are producing. The quicker infections can be diagnosed, the faster patients can be treated, which can in turn lower the cost of lengthy hospital stays. The EU has invested €1.67 million of ICT research funding into the Woundmonitor, developing a successful first prototype device.

Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said: "Every summer we see images of people with terrible injuries caused in the home or by forest fires. Thanks to EU funding, the technology developed by WOUNDMONITOR will speed up diagnosis time and help doctors to prescribe the appropriate treatment much faster."

Most of the burns in the EU occur at home or at work and are more predominant among vulnerable groups like the elderly or young children. Early diagnosis and treatment of infection in burn patients is critical. However, despite advances in modern medicine, it can take up to three days for microbiological tests to identify the bacteria present in the wound. Only after this identification can doctors select the appropriate treatment.

Traditionally, medical students were taught to recognise bacterial infections by their characteristic odour. Clinicians and researchers from Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK in the WOUNDMONITOR project used the same approach, but were helped by the latest information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The researchers developed an instrument that can identify types of bacteria from the small amount of volatile gases, recognisable by smell, that they emit. The experts first identified the three major types of bacteria: staphylococcus, streptococcus and pseudomonas, which account for about 80 percent of the bacterial infections found in burns. They then identified the volatile chemicals spread by the bacteria when they multiply. With this information, the team designed an instrument - about the size of an A4 file - containing eight gas sensors. The pattern of the responses from the sensors represents the characteristics of the chemicals present, by which the bacteria are identified.

This complex but very compact instrument has been tested in a hospital in Manchester (UK) and at a Kaunas regional hospital (Lithuania). Results have been very satisfactory and the researchers have positively assessed the instrument's risk level. Several commercial companies have shown interest in the WOUNDMONITOR instrument and negotiations are underway to qualify the instrument for commercial use.

The EU funded the project with €1.67 million from its Sixth Framework Programme (6th FWP) for research.

For further details on the WOUNDMONITOR project, see:

More EU-funded information and communication technologies research success stories will be presented at ICT 2010, Europe's largest ICT research event, to take place in Brussels from 27 to 29 September 2010. Journalists can attend after registering at:

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