• Seattle doctors use high tech to fight ‘superbugs'

    By: Alison Grande

    Updated:

    The fight to stop the growth of superbugs is happening in Seattle. A new tool is being developed to help doctors prescribe the right antibiotics.

    The Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring and Diagnostic Alliance, ARMADA, is a database of bacteria and the antibiotic that works wipe it out.

    Today the founder of ARMADA, and other doctors working on the development, toured the clinical microbiology lab at Seattle Children's Hospital.

    Doctors explained what it takes now to identify an infection and determine which antibiotic should be used.  Part of that process takes 24 hours, putting a sample in a petri dish with antibiotics to see which ones are effective at stopping the growth of the bacteria.

    Developers say the ARMADA database would save that step.  Doctors say the database would have samples of bacteria or "fingerprints."  When doctors identify the bacteria from a patient, they can compare it to the database and know with in 30 minutes, the correct antibiotic to prescribe.

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    "Not treating a patient with the right antibiotic in time can mean the difference between life and death," said Dr. Scott Weissman, an Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at UW, who works at Seattle Children's. "We think every dose counts so our job is to make sure we're giving every patient in our care the optimal antibiotic for their care every day and we can't do that if we don't have the best data."

    ARMADA was developed by Dr. Evgeni Sokurenko a professor of microbiology at the University of Washington.

    "What ARMADA is, is actually a public database of bacteria that can be isolated from patients with comprehensive data about resistance against different antibiotics, " said Dr. Sokurenko, "So that now when this bacteria repeats an infection in another patient, we already know what it is resistant to and what is the best treatment."

    The company, which has a lab in Seattle, has already identified 30,000 bacterial strains. More than 50 hospitals are already involved. 

    Doctors say it's not just about treatment, it's also about preventing the growth of drug resistant bacteria, or "superbugs."  

    “Antibiotic treatment comes with risk. If you have a bacterial infection, that risk benefit ratio is in your favor, you want to treat that bacterial infection and get rid of it. But when you give someone an antibiotic, you’re knocking out the good bacteria and you can create these imbalances that make people susceptible to other types of infections.” 

    Antibiotic resistance and ARMADA have a high profile advocate thanks to actor Bill Pullman. Pullman got involved in ARMADA because his brother is an infectious diseases doctor and met Dr. Sokurenko.

    "It's not a matter of if it happens, it's when it happens and how many lives will be lost before people really catch on to the fact that the whole globe is a petri dish, " said Pullman.

    The database is expected to save lives, cutting down the time it takes to get the right medicine.

    "We're trying to get it down to below 30 minutes. " said Dr. Lance Price with the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, "What we'd like to do is get a sample, test it and give the doctor the best idea of what to treat that infection with, within 30 minutes."

    At Seattle Children's many of the children have bone marrow transplants and antibiotics are vital.

    "We take care of patients with conditions that are best treated and best cured with bone marrow transplants.  Which as long as we have powerful antibiotics we can protect patients during the incredible period of vulnerability when their immune system has been wiped out, while we're waiting for a new immune system to grow, "said Dr. Weissman,

    "If we can't rely on these antibiotics, we can't provide these life-curing therapies, these life -saving therapies."

    ARMADA is looking for more hospitals and doctors to participate. They say the more samples in the database, the more information available to save lives.

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