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Rockhampton’s space-age analyser speeds up pathology testing

24 August 2018

Rockhampton Hospital’s Pathology laboratory (Pathology Queensland) is now using state of the art technology as up-to-date as any other lab in Australia.

The new Vitek MaldiTof (Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation Time of Flight) mass spectrometer is every bit as space-aged as it sounds.

Supervising Scientist of Microbiology Greg Cave says the machine delivers faster, more efficient, cost effective and accurate identification of organisms helping to deliver better outcomes for our patients.

“In the past identification took between 12 and 16 hours, but the new analyser does its work
in less than an hour,” Mr Cave said.

The MaldiTof can test up to 192 individual organisms at a time (48 on a single slide). It directs an ultraviolet laser at the organism, breaking it down into its constituent proteins. These proteins are unique to each organism and are then compared using sophisticated software in the massive database of organisms available thus enabling an identification of bacteria such as Golden Staph or those bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections (for example).

The laboratory usually runs 16 organisms at a time (for speed and efficiency of identification), taking about an hour to make the identifications, which are then uploaded to the integrated pathology laboratory information system, where clinicians have fast access to results. This identification automatically links with the companion instrument (Vitek 2) in
performing testing to determine the most appropriate antibiotic for use against the target organism.

Before the acquisition of the MaldiTof, identifications could take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours and in some cases 48 hours with some organisms needing to be sent to Brisbane for identification. This is now a thing of the past. Instead of waiting 12 or more hours for identification results, clinicians now have access to reliable, fast and cost-efficient identifications enabling them to treat with an appropriate antibiotic for that organism and not having to rely on a broader approach until the identification became available in a day or so.

“This means patients start their recovery even sooner, and potentially means less time spent in hospital,” Mr Cave said.

“It’s far better to provide a targeted antibiotic that’s been tested by the analyser than the old shotgun approach based on the patient’s history and symptoms and likely causative organism.

“If you had a positive blood culture in the past, you had to grow the organism and wouldn’t get a preliminary result until the next day, whereupon it would be analysed and with luck, the identification would be ready the following day.

“Now when we have a positive blood culture, we set up a spot test which we can then run through the MaldiTof after around 4 hours,” Mr Cave said.

“We have a win-win situation where all parties benefit, the patient, clinicians looking after our patients, the health service and of course the Queensland public purse.”

Not only is it faster, but it’s around 10 times cheaper, with each test costing about 60 cents, compared with approximately $6 (using previous methods), Mr Cave is confident that this $160,000 machine will pay for itself in no time.

Last updated: 30 August 2018

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