New Weapons in the War Against Staph Infection

Earlier in this century, staph infection was a significant health risk and cause of death, especially in hospitals where the bacteria thrives. With the introduction of powerful antibiotics, however, doctors gained a powerful tool in the fight against staph which alleviated the threat for the most part.

Unfortunately, in the last few years, new antibiotic resistant strains of staph bacteria have appeared, threatening to make staph a serious problem once again.

But scientists haven’t been sitting idly by while staph has been evolving and adapting. One of the most promising efforts is a possible staph vaccine announced in the April 17 edition of Science.

Developed by researchers at the University of California-Davis, the vaccine spurs the immune system to produce antibodies to RAP, the toxin secreted by staph bacteria. The major advantage to this approach is that since it neutralizes RAP rather than killing the bacteria, the vaccine should avoid encouraging staph to mutate into yet another resistant form. According to UCSD scientist Naomi Balaban, “The bacterium doesn’t realize it’s being jeopardized. No RAP, no toxins, no disease.”

The staph vaccine is still in preliminary
stages, but early research results are promising. Balaban vaccinated a
group of mice and then exposed them, as well as a control group, to a
strain of staph that causes skin lesions. All of the unvaccinated control
mice developed lesions, while only 28 percent of the vaccinated mice did
so. In addition, in those vaccinated mice who did develop skin lesions,
they were on average 76 percent smaller than those found in the unvaccinated
mice.

Whether or not the vaccine will
have similar success combating more severe, systemic forms of staph remains
to be seen.

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