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Advances in molecular testing

May 3, 2012
By GARRETT NEESE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - Since Portage Health introduced its molecular testing two years ago, it's saved thousands of patients days of waiting for results - and in some cases, their lives.

Two years ago, Portage got the GeneXpert machine, which tests for bacteria such as those that cause methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), clostridium difficile (Cdiff) and H1N1. That was followed this year by the acquisition of the BD Probotec ET, with which Portage can test for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Molecular testing is done by triggering the rapid creation of millions of copies of the patient's DNA sample. Definitive lab results can be obtained in an hour, letting the physician make a diagnosis and determine a course of action. For chlamydia and gonorrhea, the tests were previously done in Marquette. The previous course of action for MRSA and Cdiff tests was to grow a sample and test it, which could take two days.

Article Photos

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Above, Richard Kangas, laboratory director at Portage Health, stands by the BD Probotec ET, a new molecular testing machine that can be used to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Portage Health now has two molecular testing devices, which allow tests to be done in a matter of hours instead of days.

Millions of copies can be made from even one bacterium from the patient, said Petio Kotov, pathologist and medical laboratory director at Portage Health.

"With the old technology, it would take a couple days to get a diagnosis. Now we get it in two hours," he said. "We don't have to wait two days to initiate treatment. We can start right away. That saves lives."

The Probotec alone is expected to save Portage $90,000 a year. And thanks to the new tests, Portage can now do more than 95 percent of its tests in-house.

Over the past 10 months, Portage's lab has done close to 2,100 molecular tests, said Richard Kangas, laboratory director at Portage Health. If the volume becomes greater, the machines can be expanded to hold additional cartridges.

The same machines will also be able to run tests still in development that will do things like test blood for genes linked to breast cancer or leukemia.

By determining that, they will be able to tailor their treatment more effectively to the patient.

"The sky's the limit for that," Kotov said.

When Portage got its first molecular testing device in 2010, only 15 percent of hospitals nationwide had similar technology. Portage and Marquette Health are still the only hospitals in the Western Upper Peninsula with the devices.

"Now they're realizing what the potential is, so it's at more and more hospitals," Kangas said.



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