Nipping MRSA in the bud

Tom Feilden
Science correspondent, Today

image copyrightSPL
image captionMRSA staphylococcus aureus bacteria

How gene sequencing has helped to map and block an outbreak of MRSA

Scientists and politicians promised much when the human genome was first sequenced back in 2000.

In a live transatlantic press conference President Bill Clinton proclaimed that it would "revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most if not all human diseases". Not to be out done Tony Blair called it the first great technological triumph of the 21st century.

"Let us be in no doubt. What we are witnessing today is a revolution in medical science whose implications far surpass even the invention of antibiotics".

It has to be said that cashing in our chips on this revolution has proved harder than anyone anticipated, but the potential for a step change in health care outcomes remains the same.

media captionScientist Julian Parkhill: We can "break that transition cycle"

As if to prove the point scientists at the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Institute - where much of that original ground-breaking genome sequencing work was done - have delivered the kind of tangential benefit no one could have predicted at the time.

By sequencing the DNA of the hospital superbug MRSA the team, led by Dr Julian Parkhill were able to follow the progression of an outbreak in the nearby Addenbrookes Hospital's Special Care Baby Unit - the Rosie Hospital - to identify the member of staff responsible for spreading the infection, and to intervene to control and eliminate the outbreak before anyone became ill.

You can read more about the Addenbrookes case here , but speaking on the programme this morning Dr Parkhill claimed the study showed the enormous potential for gene sequencing to help in unexpected ways.

"Our study highlights the power of advanced DNA sequencing to influence infection control in real time. The technology holds great promise for the quick and accurate identification of bacterial transmission in hospital, and could lead to a paradigm shift in how we manage infection control in practice".

The study is published in the latest edition of the Lancet.