PCR PROCESS DIAGNOSES MENINGITISNorwegian researchers are using the polymerase chain reaction(PCR) to rapidly diagnose bacterial meningitis, a potentiallyfatal brain infection that can resist treatment by antibiotics,according to Saturday's issue of Lancet. The PCR method maylead to a sensitive blood test for the disease.

From early symptoms of fever and sore throat, the disease canrapidly progress to shock and death. Rapid diagnosis isessential, yet culture of the bacteria from blood orcerebrospinal fluid takes 24 hours. Experts recommendstarting treatment before taking the patient to the hospital ifthe trip will take more than half an hour.

The current tests for bacterial antigens in cerebrospinal fluid(CSF), blood or urine have low sensitivities and may give falsepositive results. Scientists at Telemark Biomedical Center inSkien and the University of Uppsala have cloned andcharacterized a meningococcal gene from antibiotic-susceptible and resistant strains of the bacteria. They canamplify the gene with the PCR method.

The scientists report correct diagnosis of a 15-year-old girlwith the PCR method, using a sample of the girl's CSF. The CSFyielded no sign of bacteria, and blood culture results, whilepositive, arrived a day after the girl was admitted.

Promega of Madison, Wis., provided the polymerase for themethod. The company licenses the Taq polymerase from CetusCorp., which has licensed PCR to Hoffmann-La Roche to developdiagnostics.

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