Vaccine hope in war on superbug

A vaccine against MRSA could be developed by stripping the superbug of its "armour", scientists believe.

Researchers in the US have been testing antibodies which target the bacteria's replication machinery.

The immune system agents break the protein "zipper" that causes the bug's protective cell wall to open during cell division.

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They prevent the "zipper" from closing after division is complete, with fatal results for the bacteria.

Electron microscope images show yet-to-be confirmed evidence of the bugs exploding.

Further work could result in a vaccine containing the antibodies which would be administered to hospital patients undergoing surgery.

"We are very excited about our vaccine research," said Dr Regis O'Keefe, chief of orthopaedics at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York State. "It'll have a phenomenal impact on individuals locally and across the country if we are successful."

MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a multi-drug resistant form of the common "Staph" bug.

Surgical patients are most at risk from the bacterium that causes around 800 deaths a year in England and Wales.

The new research was presented at the US Orthopaedic Research Society's annual meeting in Long Beach, California.

Previous MRSA vaccine research has failed because of the need to find an agent that can break through the bug's unique cell wall armour.

The lab antibodies produced by the Rochester team overcome this problem by targeting the glucosaminidase "zipper" protein.

When mice treated with the antibodies were exposed to MRSA, only half of them developed an infection.