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Is Abbott Laboratories (ABT)’s Universal Microbe Detector a Big Deal?

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I think I have uncovered the real reason why Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) decided to spin off its pharmaceutical division into AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV). The new company — now focused solely on medical devices, diagnostic tests, and nutritionals — has developed a technology that will change the way doctors identify and fight diseases. It may be one of the biggest developments since the discovery of penicillin. Rumor has it that the technology was borrowed from an advanced alien civilization.

Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT)OK, the last two statements are not exactly true (Can you prove it wasn’t aliens? Exactly!), but a new diagnostic machine invented by the company does have great capabilities and potential. According to the company’s website, the PLEX-ID system can identify and differentiate more than 750,000 different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. In addition to its vast library of microbes, the machine can also identify virulence markers and antibiotic-resistance genes — important reference points for doctors prescribing treatments.

Put me in coach, I’m ready to diagnose
The brief explanation above provides a glimpse into the capabilities of the PLEX-ID system, but why is it needed in the first place? Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the health care and pharmaceutical industries each year, doctors are left with relatively few options when it comes to diagnosing infectious diseases. The inefficient and outdated process boils down to a game of “guess the symptoms,” where doctors prescribe medications based on their best assumptions and hope they work before the days or weeks it can take to get concrete results from lab work.

Abbott’s PLEX-ID system can identify the microbes responsible for infectious diseases in just eight hours, while a smaller version in development is targeting a five-hour wait — both markedly lower than the best existing procedures. Don’t think it’s a big deal? According to NewScientist, in the last-decade prototypes of the device were the first to correctly identify a novel form of coronavirus as the source of SARS and were the first to identify cases of H1N1 swine flu in the United States in 2009. Now imagine if your family doctor had access to one.

Combating resistance
By diagnosing infectious diseases correctly doctors will not overprescribe antibiotics when they will be the least effective medication. By not overprescribing antibiotics, the world will take a major step to combatting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Of course, other steps are needed to generate solutions to the resistance problem. Such as, you know, actually developing new antibiotics and anti-infectious drugs.

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