Olaf Schneewind, M.D., Ph.D. on MRSA

October 1, 2010. Olaf Schneewind, M.D., Ph.D. is the Louis Block Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology University of Chicago; Director, Great Lakes Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (RCE).

For several decades, Dr. Olaf Schneewind and his colleagues have been attacking the defensive fortress of Staphylococcus aureus – and he is prepared to continue for another twenty years. Dr. Schneewind's seminar, “On the pathogenesis and prevention of Staphylococcus aureus infections” initiated potential UND recruits to Biology's battle with this death-dealing pathogen.

In preparation for the seminar and class discussion, Dr. Schneewind asked students to read his lab's paper, “Nontoxigenic protein A vaccine for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections in mice” (Kim HK, Cheng AG, Kim H-Y, Missiakas DM, Schneewind, O: Journal of Experimental Medicine , 2010 Aug;207(9):1863-70). Dr. Schneewind's paper described “Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) as “the leading cause of bloodstream, lower respiratory tract, skin, and soft tissue infections in the United States” (1863). Citing Chang et al (2003), the paper also warned readers that since strains of MRSA are acquiring resistance to vancomycin, we are threatened with a “return to the preantibiotic era.”

Dr. Schneewind's lecture addressed the difficulties in developing a vaccine for MRSA. Surviving S. aureus infection does not convey immunity on hosts and the pathogen survives by interfering with the body's immune system and efforts to clear it. Working in animal models has been helpful in identifying potential pathways to neutralizing S. aureus's ability to co-opt the body's ability to adapt. Dr. Schneewind and the class discussed the staphylococcal protein A (SpA) as a target for vaccine development, since its actions are required to establish the kind of abscess communities associated with bacterial persistence and lethality. By disrupting the action of SpA in the pathogenesis of lethal infections and developing antibodies to neutralize SpA, it may be possible to prevent the fatal effects of a number of MRSA strains.


Dr. Schneewind is an infectious disease expert who has developed a variety of techniques to improve the study of protein targeting in pathogenic bacteria. He is involved in translational research and consults with various pharmaceutical companies. As the Director of the Great Lakes Regional Center of Excellence (RCE) for biodefense and emerging infectious disease research, Dr. Schneewind supports close collaboration between 20 area medical research centers to prevent biological terrorism and emerging diseases such as SARS, anthrax and West Nile Fever. A key role was played by Dr. Schneewind in organizing the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (Biosafety Level 3 facility).

(Photos, Wall 2010)


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