Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Combating Disease: New rapid diagnostic test
for MRSA “Superbugs”

May 23, 2011

MRSA infection

A new test can diagnose a MRSA infection
within hours instead of days.
Credit: CDC/ Janice Haney Carr

Summary

Today’s solution is a new blood test that can quickly tell
whether patients are infected with an antibiotic-resistant
bacterium that’s become a global plague. This “superbug”
is called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,
or simply MRSA. MRSA started off as a threat mainly in
hospitals and nursing homes, but these infections,
which shrug off many of the most powerful traditional
antibiotics, are now occurring in locker rooms, gyms
and other settings in the general community. And they
are striking healthy people. MSRA strikes at least
280,000 people in the United States alone every year.
Almost 20,000 of those patients die. The cost of
treating a single case often exceeds $20,000.

MRSA started off as a threat mainly in hospitals and nursing homes among patients with open wounds, urinary catheters, and weakened immune systems. Older people and children were frequent victims. But these infections, which shrug off many of the most powerful traditional antibiotics, are now occurring in locker rooms, gyms and other settings in the general community. And they are striking healthy people. MSRA strikes at least 280,000 people in the United States alone every year. Almost 20,000 of those patients die. The cost of treating a single case often exceeds $20,000.

Diagnosing MSRA infections quickly is important, so that treatment can begin immediately with the right antibiotic. Chemist Kent Voorhees, Ph.D., who has been in the news for an important advance in that direction, explains:

“A correct diagnosis is critical so that physicians can start the right treatment as soon as possible and so they can take proper precautions to prevent the spread of an infection to other patients and to healthcare workers.”

Using technology that Voorhees and his former Ph.D. student Angelo Madonna developed at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, a company called MicroPhage (which Voorhees co-founded) developed a fast new blood test for MRSA. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in May 2011.

“We developed Bacteriophage Amplification Technology, and with this technology, Microphage developed a test that can tell whether a patient has MRSA or an illness that could be more responsive to conventional treatments. The new test takes only five hours, whereas current methods can take up to three days. Every day and every hour matters when you deal with MRSA infections.”

The fast blood test for MRSA diagnosis will be available later this summer.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

More about This Podcast

Kent Voorhees, Ph.D.
Kent Voorhees, Ph.D.,
Colorado School of Mines
in Golden, Colorado
Photo Courtesy of
Peter Cutts