Prof. Ruth Massey from APC at UCC and Prof. Rachel McLoughlin from Trinity College Dublin are both involved in the research. Photo: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

Trust awards €5m to new study

A research team, led by a Cork-based scientist, has been granted more than €5 million to investigate the leading global cause of fatal bloodstream infection.

The researchers from Ireland and the UK are led by a UCC scientist at APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre and have been granted a Wellcome Trust Discovery Award of €5.3 million.

Bloodstream infections are a major cause of illness and death worldwide. The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus is the leading global cause of these fatal bloodstream infections, with antimicrobial resistant strains such as methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) compounding this major clinical problem.

The team of researchers have said that despite advances in modern medicine, incidences of S. aureus bloodstream infection are increasing year-on-year, and scientists and doctors have no definitive understanding of why this is.

Now Prof. Ruth Massey, based at the School of Microbiology in UCC and APC Microbiome Ireland, together with Prof. Rachel McLoughlin from the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Prof. Mario Recker at the University of Exeter and researchers at the University of Bristol will, through this Wellcome Trust funding, examine how this bacteria cause damage to human tissue and evade the immune system. The project will advance critical understanding of how this notorious human pathogen causes disease.

“We are locked in a battle in the dark against S. aureus bloodstream infections, where the bacteria currently have the upper hand, as we do not understand what is going on during the development of the infection,” said Prof. Massey, Principal Investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre and a Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) Professor at UCC’s School of Microbiology.

She added: “We believe that alongside other patient and bacterial factors, the role of the microbiome, with respect to both the presence of the bacteria with the microbiome, and how the microbiome trains our immune system to respond to infections will be key to tackling this major global clinical problem. This funding will allow us to shine a light on this poorly understood problem with a view to developing strategies and new therapies to reduce infection rates and patient suffering.”

Director of APC Microbiome Ireland Prof. Paul Ross said: “This is a very important project made possible by the Wellcome Trust. Staphylococcus aureus infection is a huge global concern and dedicated research like that led by Professor Massey and colleagues is urgently needed to stop the loss of life and suffering of patients the world over.” Professor Sarah Culloty, Head, College of Science, Engineering and Food Science, UCC said: “Congratulations to Professor Ruth Massey and colleagues on securing this significant funding for their revolutionary research into the leading global cause of bloodstream infections.”