Antibiotics in tuberculosis patients can be accurately monitored through a fingerprint sweat test, offering a less invasive alternative to blood tests, research finds.

RT’s Three Key Takeaways:

  1. The fingertip sweat test demonstrated 96% accuracy in detecting antibiotics in tuberculosis patients, closely rivaling the accuracy of traditional blood tests.
  2. Researchers say the test is non-invasive, easier to administer, and more convenient than blood tests, making it particularly useful for patients like babies where blood tests are challenging.
  3. This method allows for effective monitoring of antibiotic adherence in tuberculosis treatment, potentially reducing the risk of developing drug-resistant tuberculosis.

A fingerprint may soon be all a doctor needs to check whether tuberculosis patients are taking their antibiotics.

In a new study led by the University of Surrey, scientists successfully detected the drugs in finger sweat—and with almost the same accuracy as a blood test.   

“Up until now, blood tests have been the gold standard for detecting drugs in somebody’s system. Now we can get results that are almost as accurate through the sweat in somebody’s fingerprint. That means we can monitor treatment for diseases like tuberculosis in a much less invasive way,” says professor Melanie Bailey, PhD, an analytical chemist and co-author of the study from the University of Surrey, in a release.   

The study was published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents

Benefits of Fingerprint Testing

Curable tuberculosis is treated with antibiotics. If patients don’t stick to their full course, the treatment might not work, leading to drug-resistant tuberculosis instead.   

Scientists wanted to know when was best to test and whether they could tell how much medication the patient had taken. To do so, they tested 10 tuberculosis patients at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.   

“It was very simple to collect our samples. We asked patients to wash their hands, put on a nitrile glove to induce sweating, and then press their fingertips onto a paper square,” says Onno Akkerman, PhD, a pulmonary physician with focus on tuberculosis from the University Medical Center Groningen, in a release. “Finger sweat can be collected without any specialist training. Unlike blood, it isn’t a biohazard, so can be transported and stored much more easily.”  

Analysis and Accuracy

The samples were shipped to Surrey’s Ion Beam Centre, and they were analyzed using mass spectrometry, which breaks the sample down to see what it is made of. Scientists detected antibiotics in finger sweat with 96% accuracy. The metabolite, produced by actually ingesting the drug, showed up with 77% accuracy.   

The drug itself was present between one and four hours after ingestion, while a metabolized version showed up best after six hours.   

Practical Implications

“Doctors need to check whether tuberculosis patients are taking their antibiotics. It’s much quicker and more convenient to do that using fingerprints rather than taking blood,” says Katie Longman, PhD, co-author of the study from the University of Surrey, in a release. “This could ease the time pressure on a busy health service and offer patients a more comfortable solution. For some patients, like babies, blood tests are not feasible or desirable, so techniques like this one could be really useful.”   

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