Texas Medical Center Grant Supports Warning System For Dangerous, Drug-Resistant Fungus
HOUSTON, January 28, 2018 – The Texas Medical Center will provide $203,785 to support the development of an “early warning system” that could detect whether a dangerous, drug-resistant strain of fungus exists in area hospitals.
The project targets a dangerous yeast called Candida auris, which first appeared in the U.S. in 2016. The yeast causes fungal infections that often spread through the bloodstream, and it doesn’t respond to commonly used antifungal drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 30 percent to 60 percent of patients infected with C. auris have died.
The grant supports the work of a team led by Kevin Garey, PharmD, FASHP, professor of pharmacy practice at University of Houston, to establish a system to conduct real-time monitoring that would detect whether the yeast exists in area hospitals.
C. auris was first identified in 2009 in Japan. Since then, it’s been reported in more than a dozen countries. As of Oct. 31, the CDC has confirmed 157 cases in the U.S. but none in Texas.
In the U.S., researchers generally don’t actively monitor for the presence of drug-resistant bacteria or fungi. Instead, they react after the fact, if a patient becomes sick or dies.
“The problem with C. auris is we have a hard time diagnosing it, and by the time we actually diagnose it, many patients will have died,” Garey said. “If we could proactively look for it, that would be a game changer.”
Garey said Houston facilities could be at risk since drug-resistant organisms typically emerge in medical facilities, and Houston has a large concentration of hospitals. It’s important to develop a system to proactively monitor hospitals for the fungus, since it’s difficult or impossible to effectively treat infections caused by it, Garey said.
“The bottom line is this project can help protect patients,” said Stephen Linder, PhD, associate director of the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute. “We’re excited this work has the potential to extend beyond Houston and become a national model.”
In 2016, the CDC issued an alert to warn the health care community about the emergence of the drug-resistant fungus, which can spread through contaminated surfaces and equipment, as well as person-to-person. Garey said monitoring for C. auris requires the use of specialized techniques and protocols, otherwise it’s easy to misidentify the fungus.
Instituting a monitoring program could give Houston-area patients peace of mind. “The hope is we can identify these bugs before they can cause harm to patients,” Garey said.
University of Houston, Texas A&M Health Science Center, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Memorial Hermann Health System and CHI St. Luke’s Health are participating in the study. Garey aims to enlist 20 Houston-area hospitals in the monitoring effort in the first year, then recruit hospitals from across Texas. Establishing such a system would allow researchers to detect other drug-resistant organisms as well.
Researchers will share their findings in approximately one year. The grant is part of the Texas Medical Center Grant Program in Collaborative Health Policy Research. The Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute has awarded approximately $2 million in grants to researchers studying innovative approaches to health policy.
About the Texas Medical Center
What was sparked with the founding of a single hospital in Houston in 1925 has come to be the Texas Medical Center (TMC) today. Home to 59 member institutions, TMC operates the world’s largest medical city with 10 million patients and family encounters with doctors, nurses and staff at TMC every year. TMC is dedicated to reinventing life sciences to improve the health and wellness of Houston, and the world. Learn more at www.tmc.edu.
About the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute
The Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute was established to inform, define and lead health policy with the goal of developing the most effective solutions to improve the health of diverse populations around the globe. By driving innovative, evidence-based health policy initiatives across the Texas Medical Center’s 59 member institutions, the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute addresses fundamental health policy issues important to Houston, Texas and the nation. More information at www.tmc.edu/health-policy.
For media inquiries:
Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute
Ryan Holeywell, Communications Manager
University of Houston College of Pharmacy
David “Chip” Lambert, Communications Manager