Scientists discover how Golden staph hides and thrives in human cells using state-of-the-art research tool

Researchers from the Dept of Microbiology & Immunology have discovered how Golden staph hides inside human cells to avoid detection by the immune system.

Nearly one in three people globally unknowingly carries Golden staph, or Staphylococcus aureus, in their nose or on their skin. While the bacterium is harmless to most, it can lead to serious infection and even death if it enters the bloodstream through a cut, surgical wound or catheter.

The major breakthrough, led by Senior Researcher, Dr Abdou Hachani (Dept of Microbiology & Immunology at the Doherty Institute), published in the online medical journal eLife, was made possible by a new state-of-the-art methodology called ‘InToxSa’. It enables the study of Golden staph behaviour inside human cells on a large scale, with greater efficiency and speed, ultimately accelerating the research process.

Dr Hachani explained the innovative approach, developed by his research team, is key to understanding how Golden staph behaves inside cells and gaining valuable knowledge about the bacteria’s ability to survive and thrive in humans.

“We tested hundreds of S. aureus strains taken from patients with bloodstream infections using InToxSa, and observed specific changes that make the bacteria less harmful and better at surviving in our bodies,” said Dr Hachani.

“We identified the genes that control the bacteria’s ability to persist inside host cells without killing them. This is an important advance to understand how S. aureus can cause lethal infections.”

Professor Tim Stinear, Molecular Microbiologist in the Dept of Microbiology & Immunology at the Doherty Institute, explained that the outputs of the platform will guide and inform precision and predictive medicine to treat complicated infections based on the genetic make-up of Golden staph clinical samples.

“InToxSa is a powerful tool that combines genetic analysis, microbiological data and statistical comparisons. It can handle a large volume of data in a systematic and standardised way, which eventually leads to more comprehensive and accelerated scientific discoveries – like ours,” said Professor Stinear.

“Using this platform, we were able to identify mutations in the bacteria that are clinically relevant and promote their ability to persist inside the body. This new knowledge will guide research to find new ways to combat these infections.”

This article was originally published on 16 June 2023 by the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection & Immunity (Doherty Institute).

It also featured in the Herald Sun and Science Alert.

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The Doherty Institute is a joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital.