University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: Vaccinating Away MRSA

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is on the forefront of biomedical research that could change the future of infection control and clinical quality in hospitals and healthcare systems. Researchers there have developed a vaccine combating Staphylococcus bacteria, even methicillin-resistant strains, which may be available on the market in just a handful of years.

News of such a vaccine is a boon for healthcare providers across the country as antibiotic resistance, climbing healthcare costs and changing payment models transform how the industry is approaching managing healthcare-associated infections.

The new vaccine targets toxins produced and secreted by Staphylococcus bacteria. What's more, the vaccination has been found to completely protect against Staphylococcus bacteria and eliminate any traces of the bacteria in the host. Instead of targeting Staphylococcus cell surface molecules like most vaccines, the Iowa researchers' vaccine directly targets three common Staphylococcus toxins: toxic shock syndrome toxin, Staphylococcus enterotoxins, and a cytotoxin called alpha toxin. These three toxins have been mutated to have no toxicity.


"Instead of immunizing against [Staphylococcus causing bacteria], we prevented the organism from being able to set up the disease," says Patrick Schlievert, PhD, professor and chair of microbiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and lead researcher of the study.

In animal model trials trials, the vaccine provided sterilizing immunity, meaning it produced an immune response completely eliminating the infection. In one trial, Dr. Schlievert and researchers introduced Staphylococcus bacteria into rabbits at extremely high doses, up to four million times more bacteria than normal. When the researchers injected their vaccine and then administered the Staphylococcus bacteria into the rabbits' lungs, 86 of the 88 rabbits had sterilizing immunity after seven days.

The next step for the Iowa researchers is conducting safety studies, which Dr. Schlievert says could be complete as early as in the next couple of years, pending FDA approval. If all goes well, the implications of this vaccine could be greatly effective and potentially eliminate the threat of certain Staphylococcus infections for good.

"The bad thing is Staphylococcus aureus varieties come and go. They emerge and they disappear and new strains come and they disappear," Dr. Schlievert says. "The thing we've seen consistently over the years is these three targets that we have are maintained over the long term, so we think by protecting against them, we will have a vaccine that will work against any variety of Staphylococcus aureus and would extend into the future."


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