£1.2m grant from Wellcome Trust to investigate hospital superbug

C. difficileResearchers have been awarded a £1.2 million grant to study the hospital superbug Clostridium difficile and help scientists understand how it causes serious disease.

The bacterium is known to affect patients who have recently been treated with antibiotics. It can affect the bowel, causing severe diarrhoea and inflammation, and can easily spread to others.

Dr Robert Fagan in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology has been awarded one of the Wellcome Trust's Collaborative Awards in Science to investigate the bug.

His research group will work with group's led by Dr Paula Salgado at Newcastle University and Dr Gillian Douce at the University of Glasgow to study how C. difficile interacts with the human gut and immune system to cause illness.

The awards are designed to "promote the development of new ideas and speed the pace of discovery", with a focus on problems that can only be solved collaboratively.

Dr Fagan studies the C. difficile S-layer, a crystal shell covering the surface of the bacterium. In previous studies, his research group has shown that the S-layer is a crucial for the bacteria to cause disease, but little is known about how the bacteria assemble this crystal armour or how it contributes to disease.

Rob Fagan

The ambitious project being supported by the Wellcome Trust can only be made possible by combining the Fagan group's expertise in C. difficile biology with the cutting-edge structural biology carried out by Dr Salgado and Dr Douce's world-leading C. difficile infection modelling work.

Researchers will use the advanced imaging technologies hosted by the University of Sheffield's Imagine: Imaging Life programme, as they work towards opening up new avenues for tackling this highly antibiotic-resistant superbug in the clinic.

Dr Fagan said: "By studying the C. difficile S-layer we hope to identify weaknesses in this superbug's armour and find new ways to fight infection.

"It is hugely exciting to be able to work at the interface of different scientific disciplines, combining our expertise to make advances that just wouldn't be possible working in isolation. This ambitious project is only made possible by the incredibly generous support of the Wellcome Trust."