UC Irvine jointly receives CDC grant to combat healthcare-associated staph infections

Dr. Susan Huang teams with Harvard group as part of influential Prevention Epicenter program

March 15, 2011

A UC Irvine infectious disease specialist will be part of a nationwide Centers for Disease Control & Prevention research program to develop and test innovative approaches to reducing infection in healthcare settings.

Dr. Susan Huang—medical director of epidemiology & infection prevention at UC Irvine Medical Center and a UC Irvine Health Policy Research Institute affiliate—and researchers from the Translational Research Prevention Epicenter - Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc. will receive $2 million as part of the $10 million CDC Prevention Epicenter grant program. The group will study prevention and treatment of hospital-borne microbial infections caused by MRSA and other pathogens.

“During the past decade, some of our biggest breakthroughs in healthcare infection prevention have been rooted in research of the Prevention Epicenter program, and we look forward to future advances,” said Dr. John Jernigan, director of CDC’s Office of HAI Prevention Research and Evaluation. “Dr. Huang has emerged as one of the nation’s leading experts on healthcare-associated MRSA infection and we look forward to her important contributions to our research program.” 

The Harvard-UC Irvine epicenter will tackle five areas of antimicrobial research. Huang will focus on methods to identify MRSA virulence genes associated with invasive disease and assess the potential use of an antibiotic drug called retapamulin to treat MRSA bacteria that are resistant to other drugs.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, or MRSA, is easily transmitted in healthcare settings and resistant to many antibiotics. Most healthcare-associated MRSA cases occur in people who’ve been recently in a hospital or other healthcare setting, such as a nursing home or dialysis center. According to previous studies by Huang and others, about 25 percent of patients with MRSA will develop an infection within a year of discharge. These infections require costly medical attention, including frequent hospital readmission.

“MRSA prevention and control is a national priority because of its virulence and transmission in healthcare settings,” Huang said. “Identification of an effective strategy to reduce MRSA infection and hospitalization would be a major advancement in clinical care.”

Huang is a national leader in the effort to combat hospital-borne MRSA infections. In 2010, she received a three-year, $10 million federal Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality award, funded by American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, to explore new methods to prevent staph infections in people who harbor MRSA bacteria when they’re discharged from the hospital.

The Harvard-UC Irvine group joins teams from Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis and Chicago’s Hektoen Institute for Medical Research in the Prevention Epicenter grant program.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UC Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UC Irvine contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UC Irvine news, visit today.uci.edu.

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