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Dartmouth researchers work to fight MRSA

Jun 09, 2015   |   by Liz Strzepa   |   WPTZ-NewsChannel 5

Karl Griswold and Chris Bailey-Kellogg are professors at Dartmouth. Griswold teaches at Thayer School of Engineering and Bailey-Kellogg works in the Department of Computer Science.

"We feel like the technology that we've built up here at Dartmouth and have proven at Dartmouth has the potential to have a big impact," Griswold said.

They've been working on finding a cure for the skin infection commonly known as MRSA, short for Methicillin-Resistant Stephylococcus aureus.

Dr. Tim Lahey, infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said MRSA is very common and is usually transmitted at hospitals. He said it can be fatal if it goes untreated.

"All of us have contact with staph, and sometimes we can get skin infections if we're unlucky when that contact happens. Staph, like any bacterium, can become resistant to antibiotics, and that's what MRSA is. It's an anti-biotic resistant staph," Dr. Lahey said.

But Griswold and Bailey-Kellogg said there is one protein that can fight it off called lysostaphin. The only problem with lysostaphin is that the human body sees it as a foreign invader and attacks it.

That's where their research comes in. They think they've been able to create a version of lysostaphin that the body doesn't fight off.

"We have modified [lysostaphin] by introducing mutations such that it's related to the original thing and still has that staff-killing ability. Now, our modified version is not recognized by the human immune system," Bailey-Kellogg said.

The professors said they reached that milestone about six months ago after testing the modified protein on mice.

"We've been very successful in treating these mice with humanized immune systems and I think that's a substantial leap forward. In fact, I think it represents a big breakthrough in the field," Griswold said.

Dr. Lahey said this type of research is critical.

"Once that infection happens we need more options, so that's why new scientific research into MRSA treatments is so important," Dr. Lahey said.

Griswold and Bailey-Kellogg said they're happy they've been able to contribute.

"We're excited about the work that we're doing and we're hopeful that we're going to continue to push the boundaries of the science and break new barriers," Griswold said.

Griswold and Bailey-Kellogg said it will be years before the treatment is tested on humans.

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