Although they have been around since the '60s, MRSA, and in general Hospital Acquired Infections have taken on a new urgency in the medical research spectrum (if you want more basic information, I am linking my older posts below). This should not be very surprising, since you would want to leave the Hospital healthy, not trading in one bug for another to be re-gifted to anyone who comes in contact with you.
Getting to the roots
For the longest time, it was assumed that MRSA was a cause for worry to folks that visited Hospitals and the effects on the larger society were not known. However, Hospital/Healthcare Acquired Infections have found their way into communities" and are now called "Community MRSA" and other names. It has been noted that these drug-resistant strains are adding, and not taking away from the hospital strains. All this has resulted in a general sense of urgency to try and understand the disease much better.
With modern biological tools such as very high-throughput gene sequencing, getting to the pathological history of microorganisms has become more detailed, if not easy or expensive. This is exactly what a team of international scientists at Britain's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute are purported to have done. They took 63 strains of MRSA from across the world, ranging a timespan of twenty years from 1983 to 2003 and used DNA to try and understand the spread and maturation of the bacteria.
The results can only be termed ground-breaking at the least. The study was able to make it's unique findings because earlier genetic study techniques, were unable to pick through the minute changes and differences in strains. Without identifying these minute changes, such research and conclusions were previously not feasible.
1. The disease, as predicted, started in Europe and spread through South America and Asia. Where North America fits in is not clear yet (I haven't read the Science paper yet), but the very origin of the disease appears to be in Europe, not so unusually, coinciding with the time when antibiotics first saw heavy use, in the 1960s.
2. The rate of mutation in the bacteria appears to be about six weeks.
3. MRSA appears to have been created out of patients or their visitors bringing non-resistant bacteria to the hospitals rather than via transfer from patient to patient. This is a key finding, and it still may need verification, yet, it represents a large opportunity spectrum to fend off the origin and spread of the disease. We will revisit this later.
There are unique opportunities here, from a biotechnology perspective:
1. This study, with 62 samples was merely proof of concept, a starting point for very high-throughput genetic sequencing. There is a lot more work to be done to identify the origin, spread and other aspects of MRSA. A smart company could develop set of protocols and develop niche leadership, in quickly identifying and laying out the modes by which MRSA and other Hospital Acquired Infections spread. Such data would be invaluable for government and private healthcare organizations in the fight to fend off the HAI from affecting large portions of the public.
2. There appear to be lots of opportunities for bioengineering solutions, or medical device solutions that can help at prevention. Device solutions could either be consumer based, providing solutions for public places where MRSA can be found, or they can be based in the hospital setting where they can provide much needed protection against increasing rates of infection.
More on the MRSA coming soon...