Researchers from Imperial College London have led an international team for the development of a new blood test to easily diagnose childhood fever.

The team has developed and validated a diagnostic method that can simultaneously identify and differentiate between 18 infectious or inflammatory diseases, including tuberculosis, group B Streptococcus and respiratory syncytial virus.

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With a single blood sample, the test could help clinicians identify the underlying cause of fever.

This is done by studying the distinct pattern of genes that are being ‘switched on or off’ by the body in response to specific illnesses.

A test utilising this approach could deliver results in less than 60 minutes, while existing tests for certain conditions may require several hours, days, or even weeks.

Imperial College London Paediatrics & International Child Health within the Department of Infectious Disease chair professor Michael Levin said: “Despite huge strides forward in medical technology when a child is brought into the hospital with a fever, our initial approach is to treat based on the doctors’ ‘impression’ of the likely causes of the child’s illness.”

In the latest study, researchers investigated a method centred around identifying the gene expression pattern in a patient’s blood that arises in response to particular infections and inflammatory situations.

By utilising data from thousands of patients, including more than 1,000 children with 18 different infectious or inflammatory diseases, the team managed to identify the specific genes that were switched ‘on’ or ‘off’ in response to a variety of illnesses.

Subsequently, machine learning was deployed to recognise patterns in gene expression that correlated with particular disease areas and pathogens. This process centred on a group of 161 genes associated with 18 different conditions.

The researchers noted that a functional test is not currently accessible for clinical application, as their RNA transcript panel would need further adaptation, testing and translation into a readily usable device before regulatory approval.