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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

The Black Box

Published February 1, 2013 2:52 PM by Michael Jones

Since the success of the Human Genome Project, scientists and researchers have been working towards rapid DNA sequencing. While routine genetic sequencing in clinical environments remains a technology of the future, a recent news briefing from DarkDaily followed researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge in England as they stopped the spread of MRSA using “real-time advanced DNA sequencing.”

Previously, “the team identified 12 infants who tested positive for MRSA within a six-month period in 2011,” but no connection was ever discovered between them to confirm an outbreak using traditional testing. After the infection was detected in three infants from the special care baby unit at Cambridge University’s Rosie Hospital, the research team used genetic sequencing to “[identify] the MRSA bacterial strains from their genomes.” 154 employees of the unit were tested until the carrier – one of the workers – was pinpointed.

“What we’re working towards is effectively a ‘black box,’” said Sharon Peacock, PhD, clinical microbiologist and professor, who led the research team.

Black box” technology allows a user-friendly application for professionals to administer a test without a background in that specific field – specifically for a device that could potentially be used “by hospital staff whom typically have no training in genetics” as the DarkDaily release describes it. A black box device would process genetic information, decipher the genome sequence and generate up-to-the-minute test results to allow for more immediate and precise treatment.

“What we need before this can introduced into routine care is automated tools that interpret sequence data and provide readily understandable information to healthcare workers,” continued Peacock.

The successful prevention of a potentially dangerous MRSA outbreak thanks to “real-time advanced DNA sequencing” marks “a first for medical laboratory medicine,” leaving room for innovation in the detection and deterrence of other infectious diseases as well. Although the black box “is still several years away from routine clinical use,” the role of genetic sequencing in stopping the MRSA outbreak was cited as a “milestone” in the DarkDaily news briefing. 

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