A NEW 10-minute test which could detect patients most at risk from a chest infection has been trialled in Dundee.

The device, which has been compared to a pregnancy test, can quickly identify the presence of an enzyme associated with chest infections.

Researchers at Dundee University believe it could be used in hospitals and GP surgeries to speed up diagnose and get treatment to patients before they become seriously ill.

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The kit is known as neutrophil elastase airway test stik (NEATstik).

It tests for the enzyme neutrophil elastase, which is naturally released by the body to attack bacteria which cause chest infections.

The NEATstik test works by using an antibody which binds to neutrophil elastase, causing a chemical reaction which releases a coloured dye.

The patient provides a sample of phlegm from coughing into a tube, then the sample is added onto the NEATstik.

If neutrophil elastase is present in the sample, the device produces two coloured bands, similar to the ones seen in positive pregnancy tests.

The trial was conducted in people with chronic lung disease who are at most risk of getting a chest infection.

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During the study, 124 patients with a chronic lung disease called bronchiectasis were asked to provide a phlegm sample, which was tested with the NEATstik test and compared with current tests for chest infection.

The study showed that the NEATstik test was able to detect both the presence and severity of a chest infection in patients with bronchiectasis, with the intensity of the coloured band giving an indication of the severity of the infection.

It showed similar accuracy to existing tests but took only 10 minutes to deliver the results.

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The findings are published today in the European Respiratory Journal.

Professor James Chalmers, lead author and GSK/British Lung Foundation Professor of Respiratory Research at Dundee University, said: “We believe that this is the first study of its kind to show that you could take a test at home to find out if you are at risk of a chest infection.

"Although we need to conduct more studies to see if it can be used more broadly by the NHS, the NEATstik could help diagnose people with chest infections much more quickly, saving GPs and consultants valuable time in assessing patients for treatment."

Bronchiectasis is a type of lung disease where the airways widen abnormally within the lung.

The widening causes mucus, which the lungs produce to clear out germs and other harmful substances, to be retained within the lung.

Being unable to clear the mucus causes people with bronchiectasis to develop frequent chest infections, which take longer to clear than normal.

Su Kille, from Dalgety Bay, is among those who took part in the trial.

She was diagnosed with bronchiectasis nine years ago and believes the test could make her life much easier by warning her of oncoming chest infections.

Ms Kille said: “When I get a chest infection it affects me badly and I can end up with a cough which lasts for weeks on end. It’s debilitating and makes me feel miserable.

“At the moment I have to give a mucus sample and wait around 2 or 3 days before I can get the right antibiotics to deal with the infection, by which time my symptoms have deteriorated.

“Being able to take a test at home would let me identify the infection earlier, reducing the damage to my lungs and helping me get back to normal as quickly as possible.”

Professor Chalmers added: “For people living with lung disease, getting a chest infection is a serious issue which could result in a visit to hospital.

"This test can quickly assess who is at risk of infection and indicate who is at most need of urgent treatment, helping doctors to treat these people at a much earlier stage.”