Long before most people knew anything about MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphyloccocus aureus), Notre Dame chemist/biochemist Shahriar Mobashery and members of his laboratory were seeking new approaches both to understand what made this antibiotic-resistant superbacterium so insidious and to try and find ways to control it.
“This is a variant of Staphyloccocus aureus that has been with us since the early 1960s,” Mobashery explained. It took three decades of widespread – and sometimes unwise – use of antibiotics to kill off the older and susceptible strains of Staphyloccocus aureus for this variant to emerge into prominence.
“By 1990, we were on the verge of a crisis,” Mobashery said. “The drug companies very quickly headed off what could have been a catastrophe by repackaging an older product as a stopgap measure, followed by a discovery and introduction of a new antibiotic. But everybody in the pharmaceutical industry knew these were not complete solutions to the problem” Mobashery recalled.
That is when Mobashery entered the field to understand the basis for the virulence of this organism and to elucidate the mechanisms that it has devised for becoming so broadly resistant to virtually all existing antibiotics. By figuring out how MRSA lives and thrives, the Mobashery group has enabled the development of strategies for killing of this difficult organism. His research group is now working on a couple of such promising strategies.
With more work, the Mobashery team will hopefully have a solution to the bacterial infections that killed one out of every 20 of the roughly 368,600 patients treated for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in American hospitals in 2005.
For his efforts, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded Mobashery the distinction of Fellow last week “for creative work on antibiotics and the mechanism of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, especially for contributions on methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus, a clinical scourge.” He will receive a rosette pin signifying the honor on February 16, 2008 at the Fellows Forum during the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
His work is well-known among scientific circles. Now, the problem of MRSA is known worldwide− thanks to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that touched off a flurry of media reports. JAMA found the staph strain responsible for more than 94,000 serious infections and nearly 19,000 deaths a year nationwide, largely in hospitals.
“It is scary,” Mobashery said. “It is just mind-boggling how complex this strain ofStaphyloccocus aureus is. Yet, at the same time, you have to admire MRSA and how it has been able to evade our best drugs. So from that standpoint this organism is scientifically beautiful.”