In April, at the Microbiology Society Annual Conference 2018, Professor Sharon Peacock CBE, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was awarded the Unilever Colworth Prize. Here, Dr Freya Harrison, from University of Warwick gives a summary of Sharon’s talk ‘Translating findings from bacterial whole genome sequencing into clinical practice and public health policy’, which you can watch below.
How can we tell if a cluster of infection cases is an innocent coincidence, or the first sign of an impending outbreak? Finding out whether infection cases are related, and whether they are caused by a bacterial strain with a high risk of person-to-person transmission, is a vital step in infection control. But early detection and intervention has long been hampered by the slow speed of culture-based strain typing. Other areas of medicine have been disrupted by new technologies to improve diagnosis and patient care, but an innovative solution to the problems of infection surveillance is overdue.
In her prize lecture, Professor Sharon Peacock CBE explores how whole genome sequencing could lead us out of this ‘innovation desert.’ Cheap, reliable and rapid sequencing platforms can be combined with geographical patient data (at scales ranging from countries, to health authorities, to wards in an individual hospital) to enable rapid identification of potential outbreaks before they get out of hand. The strategies being developed by Professor Peacock’s group and her collaborators have the exciting potential to act as early warning systems for troublesome microbes: identifying transmissible, antibiotic-resistant bugs well before they cause an epidemic.