Pitt Gets $4.7 Million Grant to Reduce Hospital-acquired Infections

Issue Date: 
March 23, 2009
Lee HarrisonLee Harrison

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has received a four-year, $4.7 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to find new ways to stop deadly hospital-acquired infections that often are resistant to treatment. The grant, funded by Pennsylvania’s share of the national 2008-09 tobacco settlement, will focus on C. difficile, A. baumannii, and the drug-resistant bacteria known as MRSA, which cause tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. every year.

“Infections that are resistant to antibiotics are becoming increasingly problematic not only in the United States, but around the world,” said Lee Harrison, principal investigator of the grant and professor of medicine and epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh. “We not only need to develop new drugs, but also to improve infection surveillance and focus on targeted interventions.”

The grant will enable investigators to establish a Center of Excellence in Prevention and Control of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacterial Infections at Pitt, and it will include partnerships with several UPMC hospitals, Carnegie Mellon University, and Kane Regional Centers of Allegheny County.

The project will assess the medical and economic impacts of new strategies to prevent and control hospital-acquired infections, which were diagnosed in 27,000 patients in Pennsylvania in 2007. Patients with these infections were hospitalized three times longer, and their admissions were four times as expensive as those of noninfected patients.

Most bacterial infections can be effectively controlled with existing antibiotic drugs, but microbial pathogens like C. difficile, A. baumannii, and MRSA have an inherent ability to develop drug resistance through many genetic mechanisms, making them particularly difficult to treat.

Pitt School of Medicine coinvestigators on the grant include Scott Curry, clinical assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases; Jo-Anne Salangsang, a fellow in the Department of Infectious Diseases; Yohei Doi, an assistant professor of medicine; Bruce Lee, an assistant professor of medicine;  and Paula Davis, assistant vice chancellor for diversity, schools of the health sciences.

The grant was awarded as part of the Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement Program, which supports clinical, health services, and biomedical research, and was one of only four awarded to address the Pennsylvania 2008-09 Health Research Advisory Committee’s priorities.