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Hospitals and nursing homes have long battled the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which can dangerously inflame the colon and cause diarrhea. In 2011 alone, nearly half a million Americans suffered from a C. diff infection, and about 15,000 people died as a direct result.

A natural compound called InsP6 is recognized to have promise in neutralizing the toxins produced by C. diff, but progress in refining it has lagged. Now, new research in mice shows that swapping out a single atom in InsP6 makes it significantly more effective. Here’s what the study’s senior author, Dr. Tor Savidge of Baylor College of Medicine, said about his team’s findings, published in Science Advances.


What’s wrong with the way InsP6 works right now?

It doesn’t work efficiently enough when delivered as an oral therapy. One reason is it’s not potent enough. Although it may cleave some toxin, it doesn’t neutralize enough toxin to make it effective as a drug.

How does your research overcome that problem?

These toxins have evolved to activate when they enter the cell of the host. So our strategy here has been to try to head fake these toxins to think they’re actually inside the cell. So we flush the extracellular system with a redesigned compound so the toxin thinks it’s inside the cell. It then cleaves, rendering in effect the toxin inactive in terms of its ability to cause disease.

What do you still need to find out?

We need to test it in other preclinical models. We need to demonstrate using a number of different C. diff strains — each strain has a variation of the toxin — to show that it’s working.