Antibiotics have always been a double-edged sword. Yes, they kill what would otherwise be a harmful and sometimes deadly bacteria, but they also kill off the good bacteria in the gut, which allows harmful gut bacteria to proliferate. Now, scientists say they’ve found a way to disarm those dangerous gut bacteria without killing the helpful kind in the process, at least when targeting one type of bacteria.

Some 29,000 Americans die from C. diff infections and 450,000 are sickened each year. The illness reoccurs in 1 out of every 5 patients who get it. [1]

But before long, those illnesses may be a thing of the past, thanks to the discovery of a new drug that interferes with the toxic compounds made by the bug.

“Unlike antibiotics — which are both the front-line treatment for C. difficile infection and, paradoxically, possibly its chief cause — the drug didn’t kill the bacteria,” said Matthew Bogyo, a professor of pathology and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University who helped lead the study.

“We figured that a molecule that interfered with the pathogen’s virulence could prevent inflammation and the disruption of colon tissue without making the intestinal environment inhospitable to normal, beneficial bacteria the way antibiotics do. That would lay the groundwork for the “good guys” to make a comeback.”

For the study, researchers used a drug-like molecule called ebselen in mice. The scientists say the experiment could easily be performed in human trials because it is already being clinically-tested to see if it can treat chemotherapy-related hearing loss and stroke. So far, preclinical testing shows that ebselen is safe and tolerable. [2}

“This allows you to treat the symptoms without using a broad spectrum antibiotic that also kills off the good bacteria in the gut,” says Bogyo.

When researchers gave ebselen to mice, they found that it almost completely blocked the inflammation and damage to colon tissue associated with C. diff infections.

Ebselen disables C. diff’s “on switch,” Bogyo explains. He says he hopes that it will be quickly moved to clinical trials, since it is inexpensive to make.

The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

C. diff is a miserable infection that, at its worst, can cause watery diarrhea up to 15 times a day, severe abdominal pain and cramping, blood or pus in the stool, nausea, dehydration, loss of appetite, weight loss, swollen abdomen, increased white blood cell count, and even kidney failure.

Some patients, desperate to find a treatment, have turned to fecal transplants to try to regrow good gut bacteria and soothe their agony. Some of the microbes found in fecal transplants can have an adverse effect on patients’ bodies.

Sometimes other antibiotics are prescribed to kill C. diff, but they only prove effective about 25% of the time.

Other potential C. diff treatments are in the works, including an antibody developed by Merck, which was shown to significantly reduce the recurrence of the infections. The company recently presented its findings at a medical meeting in San Diego.

Scientists have also found that giving a nontoxic strain of C. diff may prevent the infection from occurring. [3]

Hopefully this recent development will help victims of C. diff rise above the ailment and become healthy again.

Additional Sources:

[1] NBC News

[2] Fox News

[3] The Washington Post


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Post written byJulie Fidler:

Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.