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
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
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.
"Universities in the Midlands continue to set the bar in innovation and
discovery," said Vern Sebby, President and CEO of British Midlands
Development Corporation, "The British Midlands is one of Europe's
premier locations for the advancement of medicine and life sciences. All
of the region's 18 universities have unique areas of scientific
expertise, which fuel the region's record of innovation in the field."
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