Breakthrough in tracking MRSA

Alex Cooke – Deputy News Editor 29 January 2010

Scientists have developed a new technology which could track the origins of MRSA bacterium and help control infection rates.

Sharon Peacock, a professor of Clinical Microbiology at Cambridge University and a co-author of the article detailing the development, told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “Most MRSA infections in the UK are caused by a strain of MRSA called EMRSA-15 which are usually indistinguishable using current bacteria typing techniques.”

“This means that it is difficult to detect MRSA transmission routes (for example, where a given patient acquired their MRSA strain from), and work out where infection control needs to be strengthened.

“The technology described in the Science article today represents first proof of principle that we can distinguish between two or more MRSA bacteria that are indistinguishable by current typing methods”.

Dr Peacock explained that “By building up a database of fingerprints, we predict that it will be possible in the future to identify broadly where an MRSA bacterium isolated from a given patient originated from. This will inform our infection control strategies.”

The study involved sequencing the genomes of 63 isolates of an MRSA strain from two different populations, allowing scientists to investigate the spread of the bacteria across continents as well as between individuals within one hospital.

Dr Bentley of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge stated that: “Telling the difference between isolates within one species is fundamentally important in the development of public health strategies. It allows researchers and public health officials to see how infections are spread.”

MRSA rates in Addenbrooke’s hospital have fallen by 85% in the last five years.

According to Nick Brown, Infection Control Officer at Addenbrooke’s,  all patients are now screened for the infection.

However, David Howarth, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, told TCS that antibiotic resistant bugs such as MRSA still present great challenges for the medical profession:

“Any scientific advancement in this field has to be extremely welcome. This important development could offer valuable assistance not only in the treatment of patients, but also in the immensely difficult task of trying to cost the implications of MRSA overall.”

It is uncertain when this new technology will be introduced, as it is currently too expensive to be used widely in hospitals.

Dr Peacock concluded that “we are not ready to roll this into clinical practice just yet, but studies are now in progress to define how we might achieve this.”

Alex Cooke – Deputy News Editor