Identification of Bacterial Pathogens from RBCs

Michelle working in lab



Assistant Professor of Medicine

Project Summary

Under the mentorship of Dr. Nilam Mangalmurti in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, I spent the summer studying sepsis and developing a sequencing method that would be quicker at identifying pathogens in sepsis patients than currently-existing cell culture methods. Sepsis, (the dysregulated host response to infection) is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals, affecting over 1.6 million Americans every year. Current treatment for sepsis entails the administration of fluids and broad-spectrum antibiotics to patients. These measures in addition to supportive care are provided to patients in order to prevent the progression of sepsis to septic shock and multisystem organ failure which both carry a high mortality and require intensive care.  The antibiotics are administered to treat the underlying infection, while awaiting cell culture results to identify the pathogen. However, it usually takes at least 3 days for cell culture results to return – the lag between time of admission and time of treatment is simply too long to ensure the success of a patient’s survival. Additionally, the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics without knowledge of the pathogen or appropriate tapering of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and the emergence of multi-drug resistant pathogens or “super-bugs”. The goal of my project was to create a method to rapidly diagnose pathogens without the 3-day wait time of culture data using sequencing.

Participating in research has been an important aspect of my undergraduate career. Learning to carefully prepare and tailor the protocol to each day’s specific goals, and preparing materials ahead of time has been the result of several early mistakes that led me to prepare and organize more meticulously. Similarly, thoroughly documenting and following-through with the data collected from each experiment only came from earlier mistakes of not doing so. Staying attentive to details and appreciating the sheer amount of work that is entailed in a single experiment allows me to appreciate the work that scientists all over the world do. Every scientist wants to advance and contribute towards the pool of existing knowledge, and similarly, I’ve learned to take pride in and relish in the same goal.