Challenges

Staying Ahead in the Race with Staphylococcus aureus

Over the last half century or so scientists have generally, but not always, kept us at least one step ahead in the race between Staphylococcus aureus and human health. Today, "staph" seems again poised to challenge us for the lead, but new knowledge from molecular biology promises to help us leave this microscopic menace in the dust.

In the past, we have relied heavily on developing antibacterial medications to kill or inhibit the growth of S. aureus and probably will continue to do so. Other options, however, now seem to be within reach. For example, it should be possible to determine the structure of the active portion of toxin molecules and design medications that would bind to that site and inactivate it. Also, working with the staphylococcal genome, it is possible to determine which staphylococcal genes are responsible for virulence. The products of these genes can prove to be unexpected vaccine candidates. For example, in the spring of 1999, a staphylococcal substance was identified that is expressed only during infection, not under laboratory conditions; when used to vaccinate mice, it protected them against lethal injections of S. aureus.

The race continues!

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