New Imaging Technology Sees Staph Infections in New Light
A new imaging technology has been developed in viewing staph infections using multiple devices, which promises to have a positive impact in medical research for fighting off the bacteria. The Staphylococcus aureus is a group of bacteria present in what is referred to as “staph infections.” The NHS explains that staph infections can cause a wide range of diseases, such as boils and pus-forming skin infections to more serious cases that target the blood, lungs, and heart.
EurekAlert! reports that antibiotic-resistant forms of staph infections are the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections and soft-tissue infections. That is why it’s critical to be able to study it much closer. Understanding its nature can help medical experts find the best way to treat it.
Discovery of the multi-modality imaging technology
Eric Skaar, PhD, with fellow colleagues James Cassat, MD, PhD, Richard Caprioli, PhD, and Jessica Moore, PhD of Vanderbilt University are the brilliant minds behind this research. Through combining multiple types of molecular imaging, they were able to produce 3D images of the infection, and their results are the first of its kind. Skaar notes that it’s the most advanced images in infection biology. These images and the technology used are said to be able to help scientists figure out how to deal with various diseases where staph infections are present.
Vanderbilt University News claim that the group was able to use animal imaging technologies from the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, directed by John Gore, PhD. They also employed imaging mass spectrometry technologies available through the Mass Spectrometry Research Center, directed by Richard Caprioli, PhD.
In the past, researchers have used many different types of instruments to study the staph infection. Skaar and his team took into consideration the strengths of each and combined them to be able to produce advanced photo results.
The research detailed on the Science Translational Medicine states that the group observed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings, and found that the physical anatomy of the bacteria changes in response to the infection. Mass spectrometry, another imaging modality, reveals specific molecules with high sensitivity to certain metals. Bioluminescence imaging (BLI) lets researchers study changes in gene expression inside the living organism.
Using the information they have gathered, they decided to combine these three modalities and observe the changes that would happen when the infection interacts with certain kinds of metals, specifically iron, zinc, and manganese.
The combined technology they used for capturing images of the staph infection is a pivotal and powerful tool for making basic science discoveries about the host and bacteria interaction.
How this helps in treating staph infections
Patient.info recommends antibiotics for treating common infections like staph infections. One example is Amoxicillin, a type of penicillin. Applying over-the-counter topical medicine on the affected area is also an effective way to reduce inflammation. While these methods are effective, there are some cases where it’s harder to use medicine, because of a bacterium called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
In the study led by Skaar and this team, abscesses were studied under the imaging technologies. Abscesses are the area of inflammation around a bacterial infection. It is usually swollen and contains puss. The 3D images showed that the abscesses in the staph infection have different molecular environments, meaning not all abscesses caused by the infection are created equal. The metals present in one abscess are not found in another, some had none, and some had all. The metal distribution per abscess is not the same, which could point to an underlying abscess substructure. The findings have implications for vaccine and therapeutic development.
Skaar explains that by viewing the bacteria using their multiple modalities, scientists can identify proteins that are always expressed by the bacteria, as opposed to genes that are differentially expressed depending on the environment that the bacteria experience. Using imaging to identify bacterial proteins might also be useful for diagnosing an infectious agent, as well as assessing its resistance to certain antibiotics, without having to culture it in a laboratory.
People benefiting from this breakthrough
Anyone can get a staph infection, though some are more susceptible than others. There are two types of infections you can get from the staph bacteria: skin infections and invasion infections. It’s particularly common among children, teenagers, and young adults. The usual types of staph-infected skin diseases are boils, impetigo, and cellulitis. Staph bacteria are also some of the most common causes of food poisoning, where an infected person experiences bouts of nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, and low blood pressure.
This research will definitely bring something new to the table and help put an end on the staph bacteria harder to treat, as well as help scientists study the more complex nature of bacteria.
The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (AI132560, AI113107, AI107233, AI069233, AI101171, AI073843, GM103391), the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The instrumentation in the Mass Spectrometry Research Center was supported by NIH grants OD012359 and RR026742.
James Cassat, PhD, and postdoctoral research fellow Jessica Moore, PhD, are co-first authors of the Science Translational Medicine paper.
Eric Skaar, PhD, is professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, director of the Microbial Pathogenesis Program and director of the Institute for Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation.
John Gore, PhD, is University Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and Hertha Ramsey Cress Professor of Medicine. Richard Caprioli, PhD, is Stanford Moore Professor of Biochemistry.
Patty Eckhart is a dermatologist based in Manchester who specializes in chronic skin conditions. In her free time, she participates in hospital charity work.