UNMC researchers receive $10 million grant to study antibiotic resistance


by Vicky Cerino, UNMC

OMAHA, Neb. (July 24, 2014)—Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have received a five-year grant for $10 million to continue work on a project to fight the growing threat of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

MRSA, a bacterium resistant to many antibiotics, is a big problem in hospitals and can cause wound infections to more invasive diseases. In 2011, about 721,800 health-care associated infections occurred in 648,000 hospital patients, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 75,000 patients died during their hospitalizations.

Ken Bayles, Ph.D., principal investigator of the program project grant, said he and his team are working on four projects first funded in 2009 by the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Projects will focus on biofilms produced by Staphylococcus aureus and understanding their role in causing infections of artificial devices. Biofilm is a natural biologic material that grows on surfaces — like the plaque on teeth before brushing.

“Biofilm can affect any manmade device that is implanted into our bodies,” Dr. Bayles said. “With more and more people getting implanted devices, including stents, pacemakers, catheters, orthopedic devices like knee and hip replacements, all are targets for staph infections.”

It is estimated that the rate of infection of implanted devices is between 1 and 5 percent. He said infections happen in medical devices usually through contamination of the surgical wound.

“Getting rid of biofilm associated with implanted devices is difficult because biofilm bacteria are resistant to the antibiotics used to treat infections,” Dr. Bayles said.

If antibiotics don’t work, the device will need to be removed, followed by extensive antibiotic treatment, and then replacement with a new device. It’s traumatic for the patient and adds a significant burden to health care costs, he said.

Three of the projects will be conducted at UNMC and include Dr. Bayles, Paul Fey, Ph.D., and Tammy Kielian, Ph.D. The fourth project will be headed by Alex Horswill, Ph.D., at the University of Iowa.

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