Real-time gene sequencing used to fight MRSA

Posted: June 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm

LONDON Scientists have used genome sequencing technology to control an outbreak of the superbug MRSA in a study that could point to faster and more efficient treatment of a range of diseases.

The work adds to a burgeoning body of research into better techniques for diagnosing disease more quickly and at an earlier stage to allow more effective treatment and reduce health care costs.

Much of this is being driven by whole genome sequencing, which has enabled scientists to identify the genetic markers for a range of afflictions.

MRSA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is a drug-resistant bacterial infection, or superbug, and major public health problem. When outbreaks occur in hospitals it can lead to the closure of whole wards and lengthy investigations.

The bug kills an estimated 19,000 people in the United States alone each year, and even when the infection is successfully treated it can double the average length of a hospital stay and thereby increase health care costs.

A team of scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the University of Cambridge and genome sequencing company Illumina Inc, used samples from a 2009 MRSA outbreak in a hospital neo-natal intensive care ward to recreate and respond to it, as if in real time.

They found that genome sequencing produced results in roughly 24 hours, using the latest technology from Illumina, gave much more detailed information.

The researchers were able to identify the particular strain of MRSA causing the outbreak, and which strains were not, quickly enough to feed back into treatment and nip the outbreak in the bud faster than current clinical testing methods.

"I think we are at the very beginning of an explosion of evidence to support the use of whole genome sequencing in public health," Sharon Peacock of Cambridge University, who led the study, told Reuters.

The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, comes hot on the heels of similar work done on MRSA and Clostridium difficile by a team from Oxford University with Illumina and a group of hospitals in Britain.

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Real-time gene sequencing used to fight MRSA

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