MRSA lab aims to fight the disease

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Mark A. Philbrick
Brad Berges, left, and Jacob Hatch study bacteriophades in their BYU molecular biology lab. After Hatch’s father lost his leg to MRSA, the two committed to finding alternative cures to the infection. (Mark A. Philbrick)

Jacob Hatch was determined to defeat MRSA after his father lost his leg to the infection.

Hatch’s father developed the serious bacteria infection called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, while Hatch was serving his two-year mission.

“I didn’t really think it was a big deal because usually when you have infections you can take antibiotics and it will go away,” said Hatch, a BYU senior studying molecular biology.

He said that he was devastated when he found out that the antibiotics his father took were ineffective and that he would have to have his leg amputated.

Upon returning from his mission, Hatch met with his brother-in-law Bradford Berges, an assistant professor of microbiology and molecular biology at BYU. Berges wanted to start a lab at BYU that would research alternative ways to treat MRSA.

“I thought it would be a great way to get back at MRSA for what it had done to my family,” Hatch said.

Statistics from the MRSA Research Center at the University of Chicago show that 90,000 Americans contract MRSA every year, 20,00 of whom die. MRSA is immune to all but one antiobiotic called vancomycin. Berges said the goal of his lab is to find alternative treatments to kill MRSA before vancomycin becomes ineffective.

Berges said the lab has been quite successful in its research. They have found that bacteriophage, a virus that only affects bacteria, might successfully kill MRSA.

“We can potentially decontaminate things that have MRSA on them,” Berges said. Berges explained that the bacteriophage might potentially work towards treating humans already infected with MRSA to stop the virus from spreading.

Berges also said the research lab has been a good experience for himself and the student researchers.

“I really enjoy working with the students that we have in this project,” Berges said. “It’s fun working on a new project in the lab.”

Berges and Hatch said this research has been special to them because their work has hit so close to home.

Mark A. Philbrick
Brad Burges and Jacob Hatch with Hatch’s father, Bryant Hatch. Bryant Hatch had to have his leg amputated after contracting MRSA.
(Mark A. Philbrick)

“We just said, ‘We don’t like MRSA, and now we have a reason to really not like MRSA,'” Burges said.

A research paper featuring the findings of the BYU molecular biology lab was published in the “PLOS One” business journal this past July. 

Trevor Wienclaw, a BYU master’s student studying microbiology and molecular biology, has been involved in this lab for a year and believes the publication may open doors for future opportunities.

“I definitely see more papers in the future that will be able to be published,” Wienclaw said.

Hatch said he is looking forward to a career in medicine. He is currently interviewing for medical schools and said he would like to become a surgeon one day. Included in his plans is a bright future for the MRSA lab.

“The ultimate goal is to have this as an alternative treatment to antibiotics for people that have infections,” Hatch said.

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