Rapid drug test to provide patients with better care

05 July 2024
Associate Professor Andrew Webb, Associate Professor Cherie Chiang, and Dr Mustafa Ayhan are photographed in a laboratory, wearing white lab gowns and coats

Teams at two of Melbourne’s leading research and medical institutes are developing high-tech solutions to rapidly test for drugs and better treat patients presenting to hospital.

The researchers from the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre – a collaboration between WEHI and the Royal Melbourne Hospital – are using mass spectrometry technology to quickly determine the presence of other medication or drugs that may interfere with their treatment.

This is important to ensure they are given the correct treatment – and the impact of any previous medication or drugs are mitigated.

Mass spectrometry technology works by using charged particles, or ions, to identify and measure chemicals in a sample.

The team found this is more accurate than current testing methods, which use a biochemical test called immunoassays that may sometimes give false positives.

Preventing false toxic results

In a recent study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the Colonial Centre team found that using traditional testing methods, a common prostate cancer drug could interfere with testing for another common heart failure medication and lead to a patient returning a false toxic result.

But by using mass spectrometry technology to complete the same test, this interference was able to be picked up and mitigated.

As a result, the patient avoided unnecessary treatment, and clinicians were able to focus on and treat the patient’s actual issue.

Enhanced precision in treatment

Head of the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre, Associate Professor Andrew Webb, said the research could offer better results for patients by helping clinicians provide better treatment.


“Ultimately we hope to deliver more precise treatment approaches to improve health outcomes for patients.”
Associate Professor Andrew Webb

Head of Chemical Pathology at the RMH and researcher at the Colonial Centre, Associate Professor Cherie Chiang, said having a fast, reliable and accurate reading is essential to providing great patient care.

“This new-age technology is enabling our teams to provide more specific results, and therefore treatment options, to our clinicians in real-time,” Assoc Prof Chiang said.

“As a result, we can provide patients with more personalised treatment plans and greater care.”

She said the next steps were to “expand our testing menu so more patients can potentially benefit from this new technology”.

The move is part of a shift towards personalised medicine – which centres around testing and tailoring treatment to a patient’s specific needs.

The study, “Measurement of digoxin levels falsely affected by enzalutamide”, is published in the Medical Journal of Australia (DOI: 10.5694/mja2.52289)

Header image L to R: WEHI’s Associate Professor Andrew Webb and the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Associate Professor Cherie Chiang and Dr Mustafa Ayhan from the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre.

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