Staphylococcus aureus infections may soon be overcome by a newly developed vaccine according to U.S. researchers on Tuesday.
The team, receiving funds from the government, said that their vaccine worked against several different strains of the Staphylococcus aureus, in mice. This bacteria causes a range of potentially fatal infections and has become resistant to many antibiotics.
Most hospital-acquired infections are commonly caused by it, causing inflammation of the heart or endocarditis, severe lung infections, toxic-shock syndrome and food poisoning.
In US hospitals around 90,000 people die each year from hospital acquired infections costing about $4.5 billion, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 80 percent of these hospital infections are caused by Staph aureus.
With most strains having developed resistance to antibiotics, these infections are often difficult and sometimes even impossible to treat.
Dr. Olaf Schneewind of the University of Chicago, who led the study, said, "One by one, this organism has learned how to evade nearly all of our current antibiotics. So, generating protective immunity against invasive S. aureus has become an important goal."
According to the CDC in 1972, only 2 percent of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria infections were drug-resistant but in 2004, 63 percent were.
Schneewind's team has created a vaccine that combines four of the proteins that make up Staphylococcus aureus.
Reporting their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team said that they tested 19 different proteins found in Staph bacteria, and chose the four that stimulated the most immune response in the mice.
Schneewind said, "When we challenged the immunized mice by exposing them to a human strain of S. aureus, the combination vaccine provided complete protection, whereas the control group developed bacterial abscesses."
On testing the mice with five different S. aureus strains that infect humans it was found that the vaccine offered significant protection against all strains.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which paid for the study, "This finding represents a promising step toward identifying potential components to combine into a vaccine designed for people at high risk of invasive S. aureus infection."
This kind of approach is known as rational drug design. While most vaccines use a whole virus or bacterium that has been crippled or killed and injected into the body to help stimulate immune system recognition this approach has not worked against Staph aureus.