Scientists in the UK and US have identified how in-fighting between bacteria could provide a new treatment for hospital-acquired infections.

Clostridium difficile is a common cause of hospital-acquired infections, which kill almost 4,000 people in Europe each year. Scientists at the University of Sheffield, the University of Glasgow, and California-based biotech AvidBiotics Corp have discovered that C. difficile uses nanomolecular weapons to specifically target dangerous strains of C. difficile while leaving beneficial bacteria unharmed.

When competition from other C. difficile strains appears, a nanomolecular weapon resembling a harpoon-like needle forms on the cell surface. Dr. Robert Fagan and his team at the University of Sheffield spotted that C. difficile distinguishes between bacterial strains by recognizing a crystalline outer layer that is unique to the C. difficile membrane, the S-layer. Interestingly, Dr. Gillian Douce of the University of Glasgow observed that when the S-layer is removed, C. difficile becomes resistant to the needle, but it also loses its ability to produce large amounts of toxin.

AvidBiotics Corp has engineered and mass-produced the needle, and it could be used as a treatment for nasty C. difficile infections.

3D illustration of Clostridium difficile

Although a crucial area of research, the development of resistance by bacteria limits the lifespan of new antibiotics. Despite this, earlier this week, Summit Therapeutics received a whopping €52M to continue developing its new antibiotic against C. difficile. Other avenues that have been investigated include bacteriophages, which can infect and kill C. difficile.

What sets this research apart is that it steals tricks used by the bacteria themselves, which may help us to keep up with rapidly evolving bacteria. So far, this research has only been tested in the lab and in animals, and a lot of work is still needed. The aim must now be to build up to clinical studies and move this technology towards the clinic where major blows can be made to dangerous bacterial infections.


Images – leolintang / shutterstock.com; Kateryna Kon / shutterstock.com

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