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New antimicrobials could fight MRSA infection if they make it out of the lab dish

Promising new antimicrobials could fight drug-resistant MRSA infection, study finds

Our Review Summary

MRSA conceptThis news release from Georgia State University reports on a study proposing a novel antimicrobial approach for combating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The news release provides a thorough “big picture” overview of the underlying study and how it fits in with previous work in this area. But while it’s optimistic about the new approach’s potential to fight off MRSA infections in people, the release never establishes that this early-stage research was done in cell culture and not humans. The news release also suffers from an overabundance of technical terms that are left unexplained such as “ATPase,” “efflux pump,” “SecA”, as well as the difference between antibiotic and antimicrobial. Because MRSA is indeed a public health concern, the news release could have included some related statistics. Here’s one from the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases website:

“About one-third of people in the world have S. aureus bacteria on their bodies at any given time…The bacteria can be present without causing an active infection. Of the people with S. aureus present, about 1 percent has MRSA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”


Why This Matters

MRSA is a staph bacteria that’s resistant to many types of antibiotics. In some cases it’s life-threatening. MRSA has garnered a lot of attention over the last decades because of its presence in hospitals and communities. Community-acquired MRSA tends to be less severe and located on the skin but when acquired in a hospital or other care facility, infections tend to be more serious since they enter the bloodstream via incisions, wounds and injections. With stricter hospital protocols, life-threatening MRSA is declining. Still, because of the spread of MRSA (and the emergence of even more virulent strains of drug-resistant bacteria) there’s an on-going need for new strategies for fighting drug-resistant infections. 

Although this strategy to combat MRSA is still in an early stage of development, the work is certainly newsworthy and if it proves effective, it could be important for society-at-large.


Does the news release adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Even though it’s “early days” for this strategy we’d like to see some mention of costs, if not for the proposed therapy then a related one, or the societal costs of combating MRSA. The release didn’t shy away from forecasting potential treatment benefits based on this early research — so we’d like to see the same approach applied to costs.

Does the news release adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The news release accurately reports the benefits of the SecA inhibitors over antibiotics. The study considered three traits to be desirable in an antimicrobial. Numerical evidence that SecA inhibitors are preferable over existing antibiotics is reported for two of the traits: potency and inhibiting virulence factor production. However, the news release fails to quantify the advantages of the proposed SecA inhibitors in overcoming the negative effect of efflux pumps on potency.

Does the news release adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Any new drug developed from this research would have side effects. But whereas the release is optimistic in forecasting that such drugs would be effective treatments for MRSA, it doesn’t also caution that such drugs might cause harm. At the very least, a statement about the fact that potential harms are unknown would have been helpful.

Does the news release seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The news release makes no attempt to summarize the design of the study nor does it state that the research is based on work in cell cultures and not in patients. In cases where the news value of a release is hinged on the risk the public will perceive of a disease or malady, it is incumbent on the release to point out if this is a cell culture study or a clinical one. And although it is mentioned that the SecA inhibitors are more potent than existing antibiotics on the market, the news release does not seem to grasp that the study is comparing the efficacy in three arenas simultaneously: 1) potency, 2) capability of inhibiting virulence factor production, and 3) overcoming the negative effect of efflux pumps on potency.

Does the news release commit disease-mongering?


The release relates to the public’s concern over antibiotic-resistant infections like those caused by MRSA but it doesn’t reach the level of disease-mongering.

Does the news release identify funding sources & disclose conflicts of interest?


The release notes the study’s funding sources are the National Institutes of Health and Georgia State’s Center for Biotechnology and Drug Design and Molecular Basis of Diseases Program.

No conflicts of interest are disclosed in the release or published study results.

Does the news release compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The release mentions that there are antibiotics currently used to treat MRSA infections. More detail regarding the effectiveness of these antibiotics and rates of antibiotic resistance would have been welcome.

Does the news release establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


We’ll rate this Satisfactory, since we think most readers will come away understanding that there are no currently available treatments based on this approach. But the release doesn’t explicitly establish the lack of availability of such treatments. Nor does it say how far we might be from having such treatments. Had there been some acknowledgment of the fact that this study was done in cell culture and not people, it would have been clearer that such treatments are not available and won’t be any time soon.

Does the news release establish the true novelty of the approach?


The news release does an admirable job framing the context of the study. We are made to understand that the researchers of the study have previously published results on a similar antimicrobial strategy inhibiting SecA for different types of bacteria. The current study examines the efficacy of this strategy for MRSA. The news release concludes with a reference to the most recent study by this same team of researchers, confirming SecA inhibitors are broad-spectrum antimicrobials.

Does the news release include unjustifiable, sensational language, including in the quotes of researchers?


We’re rating this Satisfactory for balance and having an objective voice but we think readers would appreciate more explanation of technical terms and concepts.

Total Score: 7 of 10 Satisfactory


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