• Date: November 19, 2019

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to global health. It is estimated to cause the death of 33,000 people in Europe every year, and in certain strains of bacteria, deaths have increased six-fold since 2007.

Healthcare-associated infections represent 75% of the burden of antibiotic resistance, and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are responsible for more than a third of these. These infections are especially problematic because they not only worsen the condition of already debilitated patients, they also exhibit much higher resistance to antibiotics.

In response to this unmet need, a team of researchers from the Universidade de Coimbra has developed a medical device that constantly monitors catheterized patients’ urine, alerting medical staff to abnormal bacteria levels before an infection occurs. The main goal of this CaixaImpulse project, named TimeUp, is to prevent the overuse of antibiotics.

In honour of World Antibiotic Awareness Week, we interviewed Jimmy Martins, who leads this project.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance happens because bacteria learn how to fight the antibiotics, eventually overcoming their effects. This way, the clinics have to give harmful and more powerful antibiotics to fight the same infection.

Why does your project focus on UTIs?

UTIs represent over one third of all hospital infections. Due to a lack of early detection technologies, clinicians generally have to wait for symptoms to appear before taking action. Preventative measures, such as practicing good hand hygiene, help to reduce infection risk, but we believe that more can be done. We have to bring new technologies and innovative practices to healthcare settings, so that we can practice better care with our patients.

In Portugal alone, UTIs cost over €80 million a year. But it’s not only about the economic burden. This is obviously also a problem for the patient, who has to spend more time at the hospital for that same infection.

How will your CaixaImpulse project, TimeUp, help address this?

TimeUp is an in vitro diagnostic device that will be coupled with a urinary catheter and will do a constant monitoring of all the urine coming from the bladder. When there’s something that is not normal, TimeUp will give information to the health professional. The goal is that they will be able to act before the infection appears, and thus reduce the use of antibiotics.

Our device will empower and enhance the practice of nurses and doctors in hospital by giving them crucial information at the right time, when they need it.

How was this project born and what inspired to you take the lead?

Well, I’m a nurse, and as soon as I left university and I worked in hospitals and clinics, I realised that antibiotic resistance was a really big problem. I wanted to do something to solve it, so I gathered a team of experts in the areas of microbiology, biochemistry and polymers. I believe our team of five is the best team to bring this project to the market, to improve and enhance people’s lives.

When do you predict that this device will be available in hospitals?

We are now working on the clinical trials. So we will test it in patients in the first semester of 2020, and we hope to bring it project to the market by 2021. Right now, our device is designed for UTIs, but we assume that our technology could be used for other devices in healthcare.

What does the support of CaixaImpulse mean for this project?

The CaixaImpulse programme has provided us with a wide range of tools that will be crucial to the success of TimeUp. Firstly, they are giving us financial support, which is important. But the most important thing is the network that they are providing us with. They are connecting us with the manufacturers of medical devices, and with other stakeholders in the health industry.

What does the world you imagine look like?

I imagine a world without infections. Hospital infections should not be a reality. If you go to the hospital to treat one disease, you shouldn’t acquire another. And that’s what TimeUp will bring to the world and to the healthcare industry.

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