Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers may have found the cause of hospital-induced diarrhea with the discovery of the crystal structure from Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a toxin bacterium.
“This is basic science,” Dr. Dana Lacy, senior author of the study, said. “I think it gives a framework for understanding how, once you do have an infection, the toxins are causing the disease.”
C. diff infection is a disease that’s toxin-mediated, similar to diphtheria, botulism and anthrax. C.diff produces toxin B and toxin A, which are similar toxins. Researchers have yet to find a treatment for the disease.
Since 2011, the bacteria has caused more than 500,000 infections; of those, 29,000 have died from complications from the disease in the U.S. The bacteria can cause death due to intestinal issues, as well as a form of colitis, which occurs within one month of diagnosis.
Researchers were led by Stacey Rutherford, Lacy’s lab assistant.
The researchers found one portion of the toxin to be conserved. This means its amino acids are identical to other Clostridium species, which “suggests that antibodies specific for this conserved region could provide protection against multiple toxin-mediated clostridium infections and points to a generalizable strategy for generating safe vaccine antigens for this class of toxins,” they said.