Synthetic sugar molecule may help fight C. difficile

Scientists created an artificial sugar they think can train the immune system to fight off infection from C. difficile.

By Stephen Feller

MUNICH, Germany, May 12 (UPI) -- Although hospital-borne Clostridium difficile infections can be cured with antibiotics, the drugs do not always work because bacteria adapts to and survives their presence, making a treatable infection potentially deadly for some patients.

Scientists in Germany found a sugar resembling those on the surface of C. difficile cells may be able to train the immune system to attack the bacteria, acting as a vaccine against infection, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.


Humans carry thousands of types of bacteria in the gut, many of which play an essential role in bodily functions, but about 40 percent of patients in hospitals and nursing homes already carry C. difficile -- making them greater targets for infection.

Antibiotics can be used to kill the bacteria, but previous research has shown doing so kills other bacteria, making it easier for C. difficile to infect a person, and continuing to use the drugs with these patients, whose bodies already have been damaged by the drugs, makes them even less effective.

"Our findings are a very good example of how basic research into the human immune response to sugars can lead to new candidates in the fight against dangerous hospital germs," Dr. Peter Seeberger, Director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, in a press release.


For the study, scientists performed experiments to find the parts of sugar coating on C. difficile necessary to trigger an immune response, constructing an artificial molecule with the sugars attached to an amino acid backbone.

Mice were then treated with the artificial molecule, which produced antibodies effective against C. difficile when they were exposed to it.

The Max Planck Institute scientists said they have formed the company Vaxxilon AG, with financial backing from the pharmaceutical company Action, to create a version of the C. difficile vaccine that can be used in humans, as well as explore the potential of other carbohydrate-based vaccines.

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