Breakthrough in fight against deadly superbug

A research team led by University of Sunderland scientists has made a major breakthrough in the fight against a deadly hospital infection which kills tens of thousands of people every year, and it will be available within the next year. Experts have discovered a technique for the early detection of the superbug pseudomonas aeruginosa which particularly infects patients with cystic fibrosis. 70,000 people worldwide are affected by cystic fibrosis and on average around 50 percent of those will be infected with the superbug – 50 percent of those will die. Although the research concentrated on the superbug’s relation to cystic fibrosis, pseudomonas aeruginosa also attacks patients with localized and systemic immune defects, such as those suffering with burns, patients with AIDS and cancer.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa accounts for 10 per cent of all hospital infections. While the superbug is very difficult to cure as it is highly resistant to antibiotics, early detection makes a huge difference to a patient’s chances of survival. Now for the first time, the University of Sunderland–led team has discovered a technique that can identify the superbug within 24-48 hours of infection, greatly increasing a patient’s chances of survival. The team is led by Professor Paul Groundwater and Dr Roz Anderson at the University of Sunderland, in collaboration with colleagues Professor John Perry, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, Professor Arthur James, Northumbria University and Dr Sylvain Orenga, bioMérieux, France

Prof Groundwater says: “This superbug has a massive impact on people who are immunocompromised, for example patients with severe burns, cancer and AIDS. “It is calculated that 28 per cent of people who have undergone transplant surgery are infected by pseudomonas aeruginosa. We hope our research will make a big difference in the survival rate of many thousands of vulnerable people throughout the world. “The bacteria infect the fluid on the lungs of cystic fibrosis sufferers. It also infects patients in intensive care units. It is really difficult to treat, and hospital staff need to know very quickly if someone has been infected by it. “In our new diagnostic method a non-coloured compound reacts with an enzyme present in pseudomonas aeruginosa and produces a very distinctive purple colour which indicates the presence of the bacteria. This technique works on 99 per cent of the strains of this superbug.”

The research has been sponsored by the multinational biotechnology company bioMérieux. The company, based in France, designs, develops, and produces a wide range of diagnosis systems for medicine and industry. “bioMérieux is very proud to have participated in and supported this research that will help in the fight against healthcare associated infections - a strategic focus for our company,” says Dr. Peter Kaspar, bioMérieux corporate vice-president of research and development. “This discovery will enable bioMérieux to bring additional high-medical value tests to clinicians and positively impact patients’ treatment and their follow-up care.”

Background

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 70,000 children and adults worldwide. A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections, obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a major cause of infection among patients with immune defects. It is tolerant to many detergents, disinfectants and antimicrobial compounds and is difficult to control in hospitals and institutional environments. It causes urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis, soft tissue infections, bacteremia, bone and joint infections, gastrointestinal infections and a variety of systemic infections, particularly in patients with severe burns and in cancer and AIDS patients who are immunosuppressed. Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection is a serious problem in patients hospitalized with cancer, cystic fibrosis, and burns. The case fatality rate in these patients is near 50 percent.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, pseudomonas aeruginosa currently accounts for 10.1 per cent of all hospital infections. Source: Univ. of Sunderland.

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