Researchers do battle with hospital 'superbug'

12th February 2002

Researchers do battle with hospital 'superbug'

RESEARCHERS at Aston University in Birmingham have been awarded a substantial research grant to investigate the hospital 'superbug' MRSA. The infection causes approximately 5000 deaths in the UK per year and costs the NHS �1 billion per year. At any one time 9% of hospital patients have an infection caught in hospital.*

MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a type of bacterium which has already developed resistance to a wide range of antibiotics and so it is vital to control its spread in hospitals. One way to do this is to identify the sources of different strains of MRSA and look at how these strains are passed between patients, hospital staff and equipment. This will enable the Aston team to work out how MRSA spreads, knowledge which will make it possible to introduce new protocols in hospitals to bring it under control.

So what's the science behind the study? To know how MRSA spreads it's important to distinguish between the many strains of the bacteria. It falls into two distinct categories, known as type 15 and type 16 and within these categories are many smaller subtypes. Unfortunately these different subtypes cannot simply be identified by appearance, but require a more detailed method of categorisation.

The Aston team will use a technique called RAPD analysis to obtain a unique genetic fingerprint for each of the different strains of MRSA. RAPD technology is based on a process called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) which amplifies DNA by controlled fluctuation temperatures, and this technology will be combined with new equipment funded by the grant to produce a more rapid and accurate DNA profile than has been possible using previous methods.

The overall aim of the project is for the identification of the different strains to aid in reducing the spread of MRSA in hospitals, and developing new classes of antibiotic. The results will be relevant for hospitals across the UK.

The project will be supervised by Dr Anthony Hilton and Peter Lambert in association with Professor Tom Elliot from the University Hospital NHS Trust, Birmingham. It will also involve PhD student Jon Caddick, a graduate in Biology from Aston University.


For further information please call 0121 204 4549 or email: b.a.l.coombes@aston.ac.uk

Notes to editors:
The �100,000 research grant has been provided as an educational grant by the pharmaceutical company Wyeth.

*Statistics from 'The challenge of hospital acquired infection', National Audit Office.

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