University of Nottingham leads European study into lethal 'super' strains of C. difficile
31 January 2009
The British Midlands Development Corporation has announced that scientists at The University of Nottingham are leading a major European study to unravel the genetic code of one of the most lethal strains of hospital acquired infections.
The $4.5 million, three-year study will use gene knock-out technology developed in Nottingham to study the function of genes in a 'super' strain of the bacteria Clostridium difficile, to discover why it causes more severe disease, kills more people, is harder to eradicate and more resistant to antibiotics.
It is hoped that the study will lead to better tests to diagnose 'super' strains of C. difficile, more effective treatments and, possibly, even a vaccine to protect against the disease.
Currently, scientists know that the bacteria cause disease by sticking to epithelial cells of the gut lining and releasing two toxins that damage cells leading to the tell-tale symptom of severe diarrhoea. However, there is very little known about the ways in which the bacteria operate and why the strain should be more severe than its less virulent cousins.
Leading the study, Professor Nigel Minton in The University of Nottingham's School of Molecular Medical Sciences, said: "These hypervirulent organisms seem to be taking over as the dominant strain in outbreaks and, worryingly, there are only two antibiotics which are still effective against them. There is a very real danger that total resistance may arise, and if that happens then this will become an extremely serious problem.
"The idea behind the study is that we investigate the genomes of the hypervirulent strains and identify their differences to the so-called standard strains. In this way, we should get a clearer picture of the whole range of factors involved in its spread and the way in which it causes disease."
The Centre for Healthcare Associated Infections (CHAI) was established at the University of Nottingham in late 2006. CHAI consists of researchers from the University, together with clinical colleagues from Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which allows a unique holistic approach to HAI research.
Researchers in CHAI have made major breakthroughs in our understanding of the basic biology of C. difficile and MRSA that will assist efforts to develop new antibiotics and better diagnostic tests to identify these pathogens.
During the three-year study, scientists at Nottingham will use a technology called ClosTron to produce mutant versions of the hypervirulent strains. They will knock out genes one by one and then compare the mutant version to the standard organism to assess the function of each cell.
The British Midlands region, comprising the East and the West Midlands in the centre of the UK, is at the heart of the UK's biopharma industry, which is the largest in Europe, generating revenues in excess of $8.6 billion per year. Strong links between academia and industry across the region, have resulted in the creation of many dedicated science parks and incubators. These include BioCity Nottingham, the largest bioscience innovation and incubation centre in the UK.
Bio-research in the Midlands has attracted a number of the world's most active pharma and biotech companies, including AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bayer, Boots, GeneSeek, Novartis, Sunrise Medical, Salts Healthcare, Bibby Sterilin, Cobra Biomanufacturing, Sterilox and 3M.
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