Designing a hospital to become part of the treatment itself

Video by Argonne National Laboratory

For the past two and a half years, microbiologist Jack Gilbert and his team from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory have been collecting and analyzing samples of microbes taken from surfaces, air, patients and staff at our new Center for Care and Discovery hospital pavilion. It’s not just because they’re obsessive compulsive (though maybe that’s true) but because they want to track how microbial communities develop in a health care environment, and see how it changes as doctors, nurses, patients and visitors interact there over a long period of time.

This week the Wall Street Journal’s Lee Hotz wrote about how researchers want to use data from this project to understand how elements of the building itself, like furniture, ventilation, and plumbing, could be designed to prevent nasty antibiotic-resistant microbes from thriving and causing deadly infections. And it’s not just a matter of keeping a steady supply of bleach on tap; it could mean recruiting good bacteria that thrive in a normal, healthy environment and using them to fight the bad ones. Emily Landon, MD, Medical Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Control program at the University of Chicago Medicine, explains:

“Patients get multidrug-resistant bacteria when their bacteria are wiped out,” said Dr. Landon. Once the hospital-microbiome data are analyzed, “maybe we will find out that when a person is on antibiotics, their room needs a probiotic so that their room does not get colonized by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

But it’s a moving target: The researchers have found that people go in and out of a hospital room 100 times in a typical day, and as soon as each new patient arrives, their own personal mix of microbes begins to colonize the room. It’s a daunting task to catalogue all those bacterial species, and as Science Life found out when we tagged along during one of their sampling runs, it takes a lot of Q-tips.

About Matt Wood (531 Articles)
Matt Wood is a senior science writer and manager of communications at the University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences Division.
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