Midwestern University: 2004 – 2005

Second year medical student, Catherine Baxtrom, conducts research under the direction of Ronald Wise, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology, John N. Kasimos, D.O., Professor of Pathology, and Dr. Kyle Ramsey, Professor of Microbiology, sponsored by Washington Square Health Foundation at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of Midwestern University

Investigators at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of Midwestern University are studying the possibility of spiders acting as vectors for methicillin resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA). Their research is funded by a grant from the Washington Square Health Foundation entitled “Do spiders harbor methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and can they act as vectors in its transmission to humans”.  MRSA is an organism of great concern to the public as these bacteria are resistant to treatment with the antibiotic methicillin. Infections with these bacteria  can be life-threatening in some people. The study investigates whether MRSA can possibly be carried by spiders in their natural state and subsequently transmitted to humans by a bite. In the past, skin ulcers, often  thought to be spider bites, have been subsequently found to be skin infections caused by MRSA. As a spider is never actually seen in the majority of cases, it has been assumed that the patients merely mistook these infections as spider bites and that the infecting MRSA was contracted from another source. Nonetheless, it has never been proven that spiders do not carry the organism. It is possible that spiders may act as vectors in the transmission of MRSA to humans through their bites if they are found to harbor the organism.

The investigators responsible for this initial study are Ronald Wise, MD., Associate Professor of Dermatology, John N. Kasimos, D.O., Professor of Pathology, Dr. Kyle Ramsey, Professor of Microbiology and second year medical student Catherine Baxtrom. Spiders have been collected in the homes of volunteers in a manner preventing contamination of the spiders with bacteria not already harbored by them. The spiders are classified by species, then tested for the presence of bacteria both within and outside their bodies. The types of bacteria are identified and the occurrence rate of specific bacteria and location of spiders in the home will analyzed.

This project has been an outstanding opportunity for student doctor Baxtrom to experience the nuances of scientific investigation. She has been an integral part of the project and responsible for the laboratory analyses of all the spiders collected. Additionally, she will be a major participant to the authorship of any papers resulting from this study. Hopefully, her thirst for research will continue through this experience long after she graduates from medical school.

Over 100 specimens have been collected thus far. Results from the study will be forthcoming