Scientists aim to create C.diff vaccine

  • Deborah Condon

European scientists have launched a three-year project aimed at developing a new vaccine against a hospital superbug that kills more people than MRSA.

Clostridium difficile, known as C.diff, is a bacteria found in the intestines. It is present in one in 20 of the healthy adult population and usually does not cause problems, but it can multiply as a result of overuse of antibiotics. As a result, it often occurs following antibiotic therapy in hospitals.

C.diff causes diarrhoea, abdominal pain, inflammation of the colon, fever, vomiting and dehydration. While most people only get mildly ill with the infection, in severe cases, the inner lining of the colon becomes severely inflamed and sometimes the walls of the colon wear away causing perforation. This can lead to a life-threatening infection of the abdomen.

According to the scientists, headed up by a team from Royal Holloway University in the UK, C.diff kills almost four times more people in hospitals than MRSA.

They are taking a new approach to this serious public health issue by attempting to develop an oral vaccine rather than one that must be injected. This vaccine would work by using harmless bacterial spores to carry antigens throughout the body. These would boost immunity by targeting the protein that is needed by the body for the infection to take hold.

"C.diff poses a major public health threat and there is an urgent need for protective vaccines. We believe that our approach to develop this vaccine will provide significantly greater protection against infection and relapse, than would have been achieved via injections. This method is also likely to inform the treatment of many other diseases," commented Prof Simon Cutting of Royal Holloway.

The project is being funded by a €6 million grant from the EU and the first clinical trials are expected to begin in the next year-and-a-half.


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