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Research and Projects


Theme: Diagnostics & Stratified Medicine
Status: Complete


Clostridium difficile (known as ‘C. difficile’ or ‘C. diff’), is a bacterium found in the digestive tract (intestines).  It is present in around 3% of healthy adults and two-thirds of babies without showing symptoms.  However, C. diff can cause disease when the balance of ‘normal‘, or ‘good’, bacteria in the intestines is affected, usually by antibiotics.  As C. diff competes with these bacteria, they can multiply and produce toxins, causing symptoms such as diarrhoea and fever.

Most cases of C. diff occur in a healthcare environment, such as hospitals or care homes.  Over 80% of people who suffer from the disease are over 65; the age group most at risk from infection. C. diff is normally treated successfully with antibiotics, however in some cases the disease is fatal.

The project team worked to identify why some cases of infection are harder to treat than others and why some cases lead to relapse.  Exploring whether any genetic markers in the C. diff 027 strain could be exploited to enable the prediction of whether a strain of 027 is likely to cause recurrent infection.

Project aims

We hope that our research will lead to a national research grant and an academic publication that can be of use to NHS trusts across the country.  If we identify specific genetic markers linked to C. difficile, it may be possible to approach some cases of the infection differently, improving treatment strategies.  Patients in whom the infection recurs could then be treated faster and more effectively.  Our findings will potentially bring the NHS cost savings, further benefitting patients.

Current position

We are currently analysing data gathered from a local hospital, with the view of identifying clinic risk factors or genetic anomalies which may be indicative of recurrent C. difficile infections.

Others Involved

Dr Steve Michell, Pete Aighton, Emma Butt, Dr Ray Sheridan, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute