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LAU’s molecular microbiology lab obtains European certification

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From left: Dr. Sima Tokajian, Dr. Fuad Hashwa, Mazen Rizk and Maya Farah.

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Tokajian at work in the microbiology lab.

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Rizk extracting DNA from bacterial cells.

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Precipitation of sample in vacuum centrifuge.

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Farah preparing DNA samples for sequencing.

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Sequencing DNA samples.

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Farah analyzes the obtained spa types.

Click on any photo above to view all seven images

November 21, 2008—

LAU’s Molecular Microbiology Laboratory in Byblos became the only one outside Europe to be certified by SeqNet.org, a network of 50 labs from 27 countries. The official certification granted in October allows the lab to classify MRSA, a pathogenic bacterium, based on DNA sequencing of its spa gene.

The certification will help the lab exchange knowledge with other SeqNet.org members to investigate suspected outbreaks of hospital- and community-acquired MRSA. The bacterium causes various illnesses ranging from minor skin infections, such as pimples, to severe diseases of the pulmonary tract.

“We can hence recommend better measures to control the spread of infections caused by the bacterium,” said Maya Farah, an LAU graduate and senior lab technician.

According to the SeqNet.org website, the network’s ultimate goal is to establish “unambiguous, electronic, portable, easily comparable typing data for local infection control and national and European surveillance of sentinel micro-organisms.”

Sharing of results will be possible since the LAU lab, like the other SeqNet.org members, has been using a particular classification method known as “spa-typing.”

According to Dr. Sima Tokajian, assistant professor of microbiology, spa-typing is not done in any other country of the Middle East. “We are very fortunate at LAU to have the much needed support in terms of grants, equipment, a great team and above all an ever-present and supportive dean, which helped us conduct such techniques and reach great results,” said Tokajian.

She was introduced to spa-typing while attending the annual American Society for Microbiology conference in 2006. Sponsored by LAU, she went to Münster, Germany, in the summer of that year, to learn this method and bring it back.

Several months were needed to standardize the technique and teach it to Farah and graduate student Mazen Rizk, who have been working on the project with Tokajian.

At Tokajian’s request, SeqNet.org sent samples to test the team’s experimental ability and competence in using special software called Ridom. Work on the samples took the entire 2006-2007 academic year and yielded the expected results that eventually secured the certification.

“This certification shows that the university has reached a level of excellence that is even recognized by Europeans… We are now on a par with European institutions,” said Professor Fuad Hashwa, Arts and Sciences dean in Byblos.

“This research was done in collaboration with Professor George Araj, director of the bacteriology lab of the American University Hospital Medical Center (AUH-MC), who supplied us with the medical samples. We are also thankful for the Orfalea Family Foundation grant that supported this research,” added Hashwa.

According to Hashwa, who holds a Ph.D. in microbiology, the achievement will secure more funds and lead to ventures, probably with other Middle Eastern countries.

The research team is planning to collect and work on additional samples. “The 130 samples we worked on were good but we need more in order to try to determine the origin of this micro-organism and hence limit the infection[s it causes],” said Tokajian.

Plans are under way to get samples from several countries in the region, such as Jordan, to study the micro- and macro-variations in S. aureus populations.


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