Leading the Fight Against Superbugs

Monday, June 27, 2016

CDC awards $26 million to counter antibiotic-resistant bacteria

By Charlie Jolie and Sarah Toomey

The ability of several strains of harmful bacteria to survive exposure to antibiotics is undermining hospitals’ ability to fight infectious diseases, forcing doctors to use increasingly toxic and expensive antibiotics. If this trend of antibiotic resistance continues, it soon may make many common surgeries and cancer treatments too risky to provide. 

To increase resources to combat this threat, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded $26 million to five academic medical center-based efforts to research new ways to control drug-resistant organisms and prevent health care-associated infections. The CDC announced the awards at a June 27 press conference at Rush University Medical Center.

The five grant recipients include the Chicago Prevention and Intervention Epicenter at Rush University and Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which will receive $5 million from the award. In addition, the Rush-Cook County collaboration received $4.45 million from the CDC’s Safety and Healthcare Evaluation and Research Development contract to develop and test regional approaches for preventing transmission of antibiotic-resistant germs between health care facilities.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the more serious concerns of our time,” Beth Bell, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said at the press conference. She added that the Rush and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System partnership has “done groundbreaking work looking at antibiotic resistance as a community problem.” 

The Rush and Cook County collaboration is regarded as a national leader in infectious disease research, including breakthroughs in determining and preventing drug-resistant infections in patients in intensive care units. This partnership also has been a pioneer in the development of strategies for a regional, rather than single-facility, approach to prevent infections and to track transmission of antibiotic-resistant germs, including the deadly carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, or CRE.

The protocols Rush and Cook County implemented have reduced CRE infections by 56 percent. Based on this work, the CDC created a national CRE Prevention Toolkit to help more hospitals adopt this proven approach.

Funding will support larger efforts and more strategies

At Rush, the prevention epicenters work will be led by Mary Hayden, MD, professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and pathology and director of the Division of Clinical Microbiology. She will work with William Trick, MD, at Cook County, the joint principal investigator of the collaboration.

Hayden and Tick say the additional funding will allow them to undertake much larger projects and plan to use it to pursue the following strategies against antibiotic-resistant bacteria:

  • Identifying biomarkers to determine which patients are at high risk for superbug infections and develop the interventions to protect them
  • Studying the effectiveness of bathing patients with a germicide (chlorhexidine gluconate) to fight antibiotic-resistant organisms
  • Tracking the transmission of antibiotic-resistant germs and alert health care facilities when patients are admitted with CRE, so a proper course of action can be taken immediately
  • Using advanced molecular diagnostics to study transmission of CRE within and between health care facilities in a region
  • Developing social network analysis methods to identify where bugs are and see where they are going as patients move from one health care facility to another
  • Evaluating the behavior of physicians around prescribing antibiotics and supporting them in making judicious decisions on the appropriate use of antibiotics.

“We are in a really exciting time to be doing this work, both because of the unprecedented funding support available from CDC as well as the availability of new molecular tools for the investigation of the epidemiology and biology of antibiotic resistant bacteria,” Hayden said.

The $26 million in grants is part of a patient safety effort known as the Prevention Epicenters Program and extends the program to 2020. The other prevention epicenters included in the announcement are Duke University and the University of North Carolina; Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and University of California, Irvine; the University of Pennsylvania, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Among those supporting the effort are U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam and U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky, who took part in the press conference announcing the grant. 

“For nearly two decades, the epicenters have advanced the fight against health care-associated infections with practical clinical innovations that have saved lives,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Antibiotic-resistant infections are on the rise, making this research even more critical today than ever.”