Controlling Superbugs is a Melbourne Genomics project that uses genomic sequencing to track and contain the spread of antibiotic-resistant microbes (superbugs).

The project is led by Austin Health and the University of Melbourne (via The Doherty Institute) in collaboration with Monash Health, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, The Royal Children’s Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Why superbugs are a threat

Superbugs are microbes (bacteria) that have become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them. They can arrive unseen in hospital in the skin or gut of unaffected patients and spread to more vulnerable patients, who can become seriously ill.

Current tests used to detect superbugs can identify patients who have superbugs, but have limited ability to track how superbugs are spread between patients.

How genomics helps stop superbugs

Genomic sequencing of microbes enables laboratories to identify each microbe’s genetic ‘fingerprint’. By comparing the fingerprints of bacterial samples taken from infected patients, the lab can determine whether the same strain of bacteria is present in multiple patients.

Here’s a step-by-step explanation of genomic testing for superbugs.

Controlling Superbugs was the first project worldwide to investigate the use of genomic testing across multiple hospitals and pathogens, to detect colonisation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Genomic sequencing detected more than 600 superbug transmissions that would not have been identified by usual testing alone.

What Controlling Superbugs will achieve

The next phase of Controlling Superbugs aims to create a genomic snapshot of superbugs in hospitals across Victoria; and to determine the most effective ways for hospitals to analyse and act on genomic data during an outbreak.

Superbugs Genomics Snapshot

The Superbugs Genomics Snapshot is a report developed from genomic data, showing the prevalence of eight major antibiotic-resistant microbes across Victoria. Public and private diagnostic labs in Victoria were invited to provide samples, which will be analysed by the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit at the Doherty Institute.

Bringing genomics into routine care

Controlling Superbugs will test different ways for hospitals to analyse and act on genomic data to control a superbug outbreak.

  • Trialling Austrakka, a program that that enables real-time sharing, analysis and reporting of pathogen genomic data to hospitals
  • Trialling ways to extract patient movement data from online medical records, versus manual compilation by nurses
  • Sending bacterial samples to a central laboratory for testing, versus offering onsite genomic testing

The study involves five hospital networks: Austin Health, Monash Health, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, The Royal Children’s Hospital, and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Dr Norelle Sherry.

Meet the team

The Controlling Superbugs project is led by Professor Lindsay Grayson of Austin Health, Professor Benjamin Howden of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute, and Dr Norelle Sherry of Austin Health and the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute.

Controlling Superbugs is funded by the Victorian Government and the members of the Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance.

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