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Electron micrograph of E. coli bacteria. (Public Domain Photo)

There’s a reason bacteria take up almost an entire kingdom in our map of life: they are an endlessly complex and varied group of microorganisms, and that can become a real problem when a patient with a bacterial infection needs care.

Today, doctors can make an educated guess to what bacteria the patient’s body is battling, but it still takes up to three days to culture the bacteria and know for certain how to treat it.

Evgeni Sokurenko, ID Genomics founder. (University of Washington Photo)

Seattle-based ID Genomics is hoping to change that with two devices that can identify a bacteria’s genetic “fingerprint” and connect that marker to a database of information — including the best drugs to treat each bacteria — in under and hour.

Today, the startup announced a consortium of eight hospitals and clinics across the nation that will begin using the tech, contributing to the startup’s database. ID Genomics founder Dr. Evgeni Sokurenko says that, with the consortium’s help, this system could revolutionize how bacterial infections are treated.

Sokurenko, who developed the ID Genomics tech in his lab at the UW, told GeekWire that the current method of diagnosing bacterial infections leaves doctors in the dark.

When a doctor suspects a patient has a bacterial infection, he knows almost nothing about the particular bacteria and how to treat it, Sokurenko said. This means that the rate of misdiagnosis can be as high as 35 to 40 percent in some areas, he said.

Sokurenko began looking for a better method to diagnose bacterial infections. He began studying bacterial DNA, and found that the DNA is made up of distinct regions that are either present or not present, like a switch being thrown on and off.

“And when you start to analyze the DNA all of these types of regions, you create a long list of binary code for each bacteria. So it creates a binary fingerprint of presence, absence. Zero, one,” like a unique fingerprint, he said.

This fingerprint means each bacteria has a unique code, and ID Genomics uses that code to enter information on the bacteria into their database.

“It’s like going to the criminal database, the police database, and pulling out a fingerprint,” Sokurenko said.

That database holds information on how to treat the bacteria, but like a police file it also has a history and known associates of the bacteria. Now, instead of each infection existing in isolation, individual bacteria and bacterial strains can be tracked across space and time.

Sokurenko said this provides a completely new insight to how bacteria move, spread, and evolve.

For the moment, ID Genomics’ CLoNeT, which identifies the bacterial fingerprints, and BactNeT, which connects that ID to the database, are being tested in an observational clinical trial at the Group Health urgent care center in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. It will soon be used in hospitals and clinics taking part in the consortium, including Group Health Cooperative, Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, as well as medical centers in Los Angeles, New York City, and Minneapolis.

ID Genomics spun out of the UW in 2013, and now employs 10 in its Seattle office and its lab in Bellevue, Wash.

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