Stalking a wily foe

U-M scientists figure out how C. difficile bacteria wreak havoc in the gut

The C. difficile bacterium is a wily foe for hospital patients and nursing home residents

The C. difficile bacterium is a wily foe for hospital patients and nursing home residents

Sometimes, science means staying awake for two days straight.

But losing sleep is a small sacrifice to make, if you want to learn more about tiny bacteria that sicken half a million Americans each year, kill more than 14,000 of them, and rack up $4.8 billion in health care costs.

That’s what drove a team of University of Michigan scientists to work around the clock to study the bacterium called Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, the bane of hospitals and nursing homes. Most patients develop it after taking antibiotics.

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How changes in gut bacteria boost the growth of a common hospital-acquired infection

Nature study reveals shifts in the gastrointestinal metabolome that facilitate C. difficile infection

Antiobiotic-induced shifts in bacterial makeup allow C. difficile to grow.

Antibiotic-induced shifts in bacterial makeup allow C. difficile to grow.

One of the most common antibiotic-related illnesses, Clostridium difficile, also known as “C. diff,” poses a threat to thousands of Americans hospitalized each year. While most hospital-acquired infections are declining, C. diff is on the rise and causes diarrhea linked to 14,000 American deaths each year.

Major risk factors for getting this infection include staying in the hospital and taking antibiotics.

A new study by the University of Michigan Medical School reveals how antibiotics not only change the bacterial makeup of the gut but also foster the availability of metabolites, which C. difficile can use for germination and growth.

“The findings in our paper are not only vital to the development of new-targeted therapeutics for combatting C. difficile infection but could aid in understanding other gut inflammatory and metabolic diseases, including diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease, where changes in the gut microbiome could be intimately related to the chemical and nutrient environment,” says lead author Casey Theriot, Ph.D., Research Investigator in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan Medical School.

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