Multidisciplinary approach to AMR research invaluable in developing genome database
11 Jul 2017
This case study forms part of our Investing for Impact report, looking at how MRC- funded research delivers impact. More can be found in the Investing for Impact section of our website.
Research funded by several funding organisations including the MRC has helped develop an open-access database of bacterial genome sequence data. This resource, published in 2016, will be invaluable for researchers in the field as a tool for future surveillance and outbreak investigations.
In 2016, Professor Sharon Peacock published a database of whole genome sequencing data for Staphylococcus aureus bacterial samples isolated from various locations, including methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) isolates. This database is a valuable resource for the future surveillance and outbreak investigation of MRSA in the UK and Ireland. Already, this database has shown its value during outbreak investigation and tracking of antimicrobial resistance. This precision will help more people than just the patient. Infections that are cured quickly are less likely to spread. It also means using fewer ineffective drugs, reducing the selective pressure for the development of resistance in the future.
In the past two decades since the first bacterial genome was sequenced, there has been a vast reduction in the price of sequencing, thanks to technical developments and innovation. This, in turn, has made bacterial genome sequencing affordable to many laboratories, leading to a democratisation of sequencing. Thousands of microbial genomes have now been sequenced at a fraction of the cost and time it used to take. But applying this powerful tool to the healthcare system, so that microbial sequencing can be routinely performed in hospitals is still unfortunately not a reality.
Professor Peacock is a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge where she works on the translation of high throughput whole genome sequencing technologies into diagnostic and public health systems. She studies MRSA, one of the most well-known strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. MRSA is often found in a hospital setting and can spread between vulnerable populations. Hospital infection control measures are designed to prevent the spread of these bacteria but these measures can sometimes fail. One way to reveal how bacteria spread and pinpoint where preventive strategies require strengthening is to perform bacterial genotyping to determine if MRSA affecting two patients are highly related (suggesting that it passed from one person to another) or different.
This method of bacterial genotyping can be seen in action in a study published in 2017 by Professor Peacock. 1,465 samples of MRSA were taken from hospitals and GP practices to determine if the cases were related. Bacterial genotyping showed 173 different outbreaks involving up to 44 people. The results of this study increase our understanding of transmission between individuals across hospitals and the community, and could lead to improved control measures. This further highlights the importance of bacterial genotyping in monitoring and preventing the spread of MRSA infections.
Professor Peacock began work on this database of S. aureus isolates in 2013, and the results were published three years later in 2016. She has made these results available on the European Nucleotide Archive, thus making the data open access, while also assembling a team of users who can access the assembled genomic data and metadata. Numerous microbiologists across the UK are members of this group, including Dr Ruth Massey at the University of Bath, Dr Ewan Harrison, Dr Mark Holmes, Professor Andres Floto at the University of Cambridge, Professor Ross Fitzgerald at the University of Edinburgh, Professor Tracy Palmer in Dundee, and Professor Sivaramesh Wigneshweraraj at Imperial College London.
Professor Peacock’s research project is part of the UKCRC Consortium (UK Clinical Research Collaboration). Six organisations are involved in funding the UKCRC, including the BBSRC, MRC, NIHR, and the Wellcome Trust. Large-scale, multi-funder research projects such as this herald the multidisciplinary future of AMR research.
Award details: G1000803