Stopping “Superbugs” with Genomics

Technology-charged genomic sequencing could be the weapon we need to combat drug-resistant superbugs.

Hospitals can be dangerous breeding grounds for infectious bugs. Concentrated numbers of sick people, many with weakened immune systems, and healthcare workers moving quickly from person to person—all combine to create a perfect storm for quickly spreading germs. 

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Bacterial infections
account for more
than 13 percent of
deaths worldwide.

- National Center
for Biotechnology
Information, 2015

"If we don't take
steps to slow
or stop drug
resistance, we
will fall back
to a time when
simple infections
killed people."

- Michael Bell
MD, Deputy Director of
CDC's Division of Healthcare
Quality Promotion

"Anything we
can do to detect
these infectious
agents more
quickly, as they're
happening, or
to bring that
together and
allow more real-
time response
to it, could help
save lives."

- Jennifer Esposito
Worldwide General Manager,
Health and Life Sciences, Intel

Technology to Match the Threat
Practical technology is following the research. Software already exists to identify bacterial strains and their resistance profiles using a laptop, providing comprehensive reports in minutes.

"We don’t want untreatable infections to become common,” said Arjun Srinivasan, MD, CDC’s associate director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs, in a CDC release. CDC’s “plans to combat this include obtaining real-time data about antibiotic use and trends to better understand prescribing practices in doctor’s offices and...hospitals." Getting this real-time data is critical, as is the ability to analyze it quickly and get actionable insights.

Sequencing has now been used for real-time tracking of the Ebola virus in West Africa and the Zika virus in Brazil. For Ebola, researchers flew a new portable sequencer in their luggage and were able to quickly map transmission patterns after identifying strains within 24 hours. Previous methods involved shipping blood samples to labs overseas, which took weeks1.

Following these examples, health agencies around the world are calling to expand the practice to help stay ahead of any future outbreaks.

"Detection and surveillance are a really big part of containing these out breaks,” said Jennifer Esposito, Intel’s worldwide general manager, health and life sciences. “Anything we can do to detect these infectious agents more quickly, as they’re happening, or to bring that information together and allow more real-time response to it, could help save lives.” 

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