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U. Michigan Wins $7.5M for C. Difficile Studies

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Michigan has reeled in a $7.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the genetic factors involved in Clostridium difficile infections in humans, a growing hospital-acquired infection problem that has doubled in recent years, the university said today.

The studies will delve into genetic variations in the pathogen that may cause different disease outcomes. The researchers will aim to understand how certain beneficial gut microbes may not protect patients from infection when they are altered by antibiotics, and they will study the human response to infection.

The university is one of four Cooperative Research Centers nationwide that will form the NIH-sponsored Enterics Research Investigational Network. ERIN brings together investigators with expertise in a wide array of research areas, including microbiology, immunology, clinical medicine, and others. UM's projects will explore specific aspects of C. difficile pathogenesis, the university said in a statement.

Each year in the US 215,000 people are diagnosed with C. difficile infections while in hospitals or after a hospital stay, another 263,000 develop the infections while in nursing homes, and 28,5000 people die in the country due to C. difficile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"With increased knowledge of how a person's beneficial microbiota are altered by antibiotics, we can develop ways to give back microbiota that keep C. difficile in check,” Vincent Young, an associate professor in the UM departments of internal medicine and microbiology and immunology, said in a statement.

"If we can identify a deficiency in the host response, we may be able to develop a vaccine to compensate," Young said.

One project supported by the funding will study the microbial ecology and molecular pathogenesis of C. difficile infection.

Another project will explore the genomics and epidemiology of the infection, and will involve collecting specimens from patients at UM hospitals and health centers to study the relationship between the pathogen’s genetics and outcomes in patients.

Yet another research effort will focus on the interplay between host immunity and the pathogenesis of C. difficile.

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