You take your yowling preschooler to the doctors. She is tugging on her ears. The doctor swipes the back of her throat to rule out strep. Check. But still there’s the ear thing. Is it bacterial? Viral? And if bacterial what kind? The doc takes her best guess and sends you off with a prescription for one antibiotic or another (in our case it was amoxicillin, amoxicillin, amoxicillin, until it no longer did the trick.) Perhaps she suggests waiting a day or two to see if the infection resolves on its own.
Best would be a test like the rapid strep test for all bacteria — which doesn’t yet exist. To treat or not to treat is an increasingly critical question as the overuse and misuse (or misdirection) of antibiotics creates fertile ground for bacterial evolution – and for the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
But, if you can develop such a test you may be in the running for the 2014 Longitude prize; a challenge with a $12,610,664.77 (or 10 million pound) reward fund. While it’s a goal worth millions of dollars, the reward is priceless in terms of lives that can be saved by saving the efficacy of our antibiotics.
For more information visit the Longitude website (antibiotics, recently voted to the top by the public was just one of several pressing problems to be solved) and the history of Challenge Prizes. From better billiard balls, to navigation and coming to a clinic someday soon, rapid bacterial ID!