An international team of scientists, led by Monash University researchers, has uncovered the workings of a superbug that kills elderly hospital patients worldwide - a discovery that has the potential to save lives and health care systems billions of dollars each year.
The research published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, unravelled ways to genetically modify the bacterium Clostridium difficile and solved the mystery surrounding its toxicity.
Professor Julian Rood from the Department of Microbiology and lead author, microbiologist Dr Dena Lyras, made a major scientific breakthrough which allowed mutants of the superbug to be made. They then identified which of two suspected toxic proteins was essential for the bacterium to cause severe disease.
"Contrary to previously accepted scientific belief, our results show that toxin B, which was considered the less important toxin is actually the toxin that causes disease," Professor Rood said.
"This discovery will lead to new methods for the control and prevention of this disease".
Professor Rood and Dr Lyras have been working toward this result for more than a decade. Dr Lyras said strains of Clostridium difficile are found in almost every hospital in Australia.
"It is the major cause of diarrhoea in hospital patients undergoing antibiotic therapy. The antibiotics destroy the 'good' bacteria in the gut, allowing a 'bad' bacterium to grow in the colon, where it causes a chronic bowel infection that is very difficult to treat," Dr Lyras said.
"The disease produces two types of Toxins, known as A and B. Worldwide research has tended to focus on these purified toxins in isolation from the bug. This only resulted in part of the story being told. We took a big picture approach and through genetic modification of the bug, together with infection studies with our US collaborators, we were able to see the whole picture," D
|Contact: Dr. Dena Lyras|