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Fritsche to research antibiotic resistance

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Marshfield Clinic pathologist named holder of new research endowment. Research will target antibiotic resistance in humans and animals.

Dr. Thomas Fritsche, a Marshfield Clinic pathologist and researcher, has been named the inaugural holder of the Steve J. Miller Distinguished Physician/Scientist Endowment in Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety Research.

Fritsche is an expert in human and animal antibiotic resistance, which is the focus for the study tied to the Miller Endowment. The impetus for Fritsche's study is based in part on a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that addresses the serious threats posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and recommends interventions to better understand and examine for antibiotic resistance, and to improve the use of antibiotics to minimize resistance development.

"If we’re going to have any impact in controlling antibiotic resistance, we need to understand where it exists, what drives the resistance and what the exposure risks are for acquiring it," Fritsche said. "That's what this study is about."

The endowment was named through a gift from Marshfield native Marbeth Spreyer to Marshfield Clinic and the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF), in memory of her father, Steve J. Miller, a longtime cheese wholesaler in Marshfield.

A percentage of the $500,000 endowment, which was funded by Spreyer and other donations to MCRF, will provide annual support for Fritsche’s research for the next three years and will continue to support this area of research in the future.

Fritsche's work will serve a dual purpose in allowing Marshfield Labs to evaluate and validate new resistance detection techniques that will benefit Clinic patients, in addition to generating data pertinent to this study.

"Thanks to Marbeth Spreyer, we’ll be able to explore a new and important area, not previously within our reach,” said Dr. Matt Keifer, director of the National Farm Medicine Center in the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, which also will be involved in this research. "Tom Fritsche is an ideal choice. He’s a well-established clinician scientist, and he’ll help us strengthen the bonds between the NFMC and Marshfield Clinic’s robust clinical capabilities.”

Spreyer, 83, of Virginia graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts and earned her law degree at Georgetown University in Washington. She started as a government attorney in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Spreyer's father knew many of the Clinic doctors and was interested in supporting research, as far back as 1959.

"He always said, 'only in America could I achieve what I have.' He believed in giving back to the community and became well-known, especially by the farmers and cheesemakers," Spreyer said.

Antibiotic resistance is a complex problem globally and a serious threat in health care. Fritsche wants to detect and study resistant strains of bacteria that colonize the intestinal tract of humans and animals before they cause infections. Then, as resistant bacteria are isolated, Fritsche and his team will compare them to other resistant bacteria recovered from human infections, such as those from the urinary tract, wounds, bloodstream and lungs.

"We shouldn't think of health in terms of only human health, especially when it comes to infectious diseases," Fritsche said. "Sixty percent or more of those bacteria-producing infections in humans also produce infections in animals, and we need to keep that in mind when studying diseases that affect both groups."

Fritsche and his team already are performing pilot studies generating data and information that show the need for a larger-scale study.

"The beauty of this study is in integrating human and animal health questions occurring in the same geographic region," Fritsche said. "We have the patient population, veterinary lab services and new lab tools that allow us to screen for resistance and identify bacteria cost effectively. We also have the capability to molecularly dissect the genes that produce resistance in human and animal bacteria, and to track their movement between hosts. The Miller Endowment will play a pivotal role in getting this all started."

​​The Marshfield Clinic system provides patient care, research and education in more than 50 locations in northern, central and western Wisconsin, making it one of the largest comprehensive medical systems in the United States.

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