News in brief: Less invasive skin biopsy on the way; Can a blood test help diagnose skin cancer? Antibiotic prescribing halved during pandemic

26 Apr 2022

Less invasive skin biopsy on the way 

A skin microbiopsy device developed by researchers at the University of Queensland could change the way skin cancers and inflammatory skin conditions are diagnosed and monitored.

The device takes tissue samples <0.5mm in diameter compared to conventional skin biopsies which are usually 2-4mm.

Professor Peter Soyer, from the UQ Dermatology Research Centre, said use of the microbiopsy device is relatively painless and leaves a tiny puncture site that heals within days.

He said the less invasive microbiopsy device would allow dermatologists to better monitor the progression of suspected skin cancers and other skin conditions over time, without the need for more invasive conventional biopsies.

The device has been licensed to Trajan Scientific and Medical for further development.

Can a blood test help diagnose skin cancer?

New research indicates that testing an individual’s blood can reveal the presence of circulating melanoma cells. Such tests may allow patients to forego invasive skin biopsies to determine whether they have skin cancer.

The test uses the Melanoma-specific OncoBean platform conjugated with melanoma-specific antibodies. Investigators at the University of Michigan showed that the test can be used not only to diagnose melanoma but also to evaluate whether all cancer cells have been successfully removed after skin cancer surgery.

“This is the first comprehensive study of circulating tumour cells—or CTCs—to evaluate the efficacy of surgery using microfluidic systems in melanoma, including changes in the number of CTCs, CTC cluster configuration, and gene expression profiling,” said first author Dr Yoon-Tae Kang.

“CTCs have the potential to pinpoint treatment resistance and recurrence, and can be a valuable biomarker to non-invasively monitor for disease progression,” added corresponding author Dr Sunitha Nagrath.

Read more in Advanced NanoBiomed Research

Antibiotic prescribing halved during pandemic

The number of antibiotics prescribed in Australia fell by as much as 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic, a study has shown.

An analysis of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions issued from January 2014 to April 2021 showed that the number of prescriptions dropped sharply as national restrictions were implemented at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and remained lower than usual during the study period.

In winter 2020, there were 1,432,000 prescriptions per month compared to 2,313,000 the same month in 2019, a 38% reduction.

Summer 2021 showed a 23% reduction in prescriptions compared to the summers of 2018, according to Dr Jack Skeggs of Monash Infectious Diseases, Monash Health.

The reductions were predominantly in antibiotics such as amoxicillin used to treat community-acquired respiratory infections which showed a 52% reduction in prescribing during the winter of 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Prescription of antibiotics such as trimethoprim commonly used for other indications, remained stable.

Some of the reduction is likely to be due to the social distancing measures introduced to curb COVID-19 also reducing the spread of other respiratory infections, Dr Skeggs suggested.

He said it was notable that reductions occurred in all states and territories despite significant differences in COVID-19 case numbers and duration of lockdowns

“This is particularly promising as it suggests that the reductions were not dependent on high case numbers or the most onerous social distancing measures like lockdowns and it may therefore be possible to maintain some of the decreases after the pandemic,” he said.

“Our finding that certain broad-spectrum antibiotics like amoxicillin-clavulanate appear to be being prescribed for community-acquired respiratory infections suggests that antibiotic prescribing for respiratory illness remains a valuable target for future anti-microbial stewardship programs,” he added.

The findings were presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Lisbon, Portugal.


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