Joseph Sorg, a biologist at Texas A&M University, recently received a federal grant for $275,000 to study the behavior of C. Difficile, a gut bacteria that has gained a lot of attention throughout the research community in recent years, as well as from hospitals seeking to reduce the C. Diff infections. Sorg will be studying hundreds of human fecal samples to learn the habitat of Clostridium difficile in order to devise some exceptional combative strategies to prevent and control the infection.
Background of C. difficile and infections caused by this pathogen:
According to estimates, each year, over 14,000 deaths in America are attributed to C. difficile infection. Clostridium difficile infections are mostly contracted during hospital visitations or stays due to significant alteration in the composition of gut flora as a result of antibiotics and drugs. Elderly and immuno-compromised patients are at highest risk of developing a severe form of the disease. The most common presentation is profuse diarrhea that may culminate in death if emergency medical measures are not adopted. An infected person releases bacterial spores in stool that remains dormant. Additionally, these spores are resistant to extreme environmental conditions and antibiotics and are capable of transmitting infection when these spores are acquired by an infected person via contaminated food or water.
Although medical management and antibiotic therapy helps in treating the acute diarrhea, most patients develop recurring infections. Sorg explained the misery and long-term effects of C. difficile in these words:
“If you talk to people who have C. diff and are relapsing, they are miserable. We want to make sure that we can eventually treat people and prevent them from relapsing, or even keep them from becoming infected in the first place. C. diff is one of the most common hospital-acquired infections now, so it’s a big problem in the U.S. and other industrialized nations.”
Besides physical and psychological issues, the economic burden and cost of therapy is also a huge concern. According to a recent report released by University of Pittsburgh in 2011, the overall economic toll caused by C. difficile exceeds $1.8 billion each year.
Looking for more information about Clostridium Difficile? Read our info page: Clostridium Difficile: What You Need To Know.
About the study conducted by Sorg:
Joseph Sorg has been serving as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University since 2010. In order to learn about clostridium difficile in detail, Sorg founded Spordiff Therapeutics with Abraham Sonenshein — his postdoctoral mentor at Tufts University. The aim of this company is to commercialize and promote research to stop and prevent this recurring infection. Sorg identified that bacterial spores are a primary method of survival of pathogen in environment and also a cause of recurring infections.
He diverted his efforts to create a drug that can limit the capacity of spores to regenerate and cause disease, by a process known as germination. Human liver produces bile that contains enzymes and bile acids and bile salts. Sorg identified that the bile contains 2 bile acids- one that inhibit the process of germination and another that promotes it.
Sorg explained his expectations from the study:
“What we’re interested in doing is trying to develop an inhibitor as a potential drug. If you inhibit the process of germination, you would completely inhibit the disease.”
Future study and expected goals from the research:
Sorg will be utilizing the two-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant with clinicians at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Sonenshein, and Yoav Golan. The objective of this research is to understand the composition of bile acid in different subsets of human population. For example, primary groups are:
– Healthy individuals
– People who are suffering from acute C difficile infection
– Individuals who are suffering from recurrent C. difficile infections
This study is directed at developing a drug that can treat and prevent the C. difficile infection. All the fecal study samples will be shipped to Texas A&M after collection at Tufts Medical Center. Sorg will be using his $80,000 portion of the grant to analyze the composition of bile acids.
“The microbial flora in a healthy person metabolizes bile acids into secondary bile acids, and these secondary bile acids are actually toxic to C. diff growth. One of the ways we think that microbial flora inhibits C. diff infection is this metabolism. And when you go on antibiotics, the microbial flora that does this metabolism is obliterated. This NIH grant will allow us to correlate a particular bile acid profile with susceptibility to C. diff infection.”
About Dr. Joseph Sorg:
Sorg is recognized as one of the most promising, young researchers in the research community today. In addition to his research, he is also known for his teaching skills. Dr. Sorg was recently selected as one of the recipients of 2013-14 Montague-CTE Scholar Award, for the College of Science. Sorg is also planning to use the grant for the development of an open online course that can assess the preparation of students for Biology 351 and Fundamentals of Microbiology prior to registration. He is planning to devise the course by the end of spring, accessible to any student with a valid Texas A&M NetID.
He received his degree in Biochemistry from Purdue University in 2001 and a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Chicago in 2006. By the end of doctorate, he decided to conduct in-depth research of the basic science of C. difficile. He explained why he chose to study C. difficile in these words:
“It seemed attractive because there wasn’t a whole lot known about it, and it seemed like a good opportunity to go into a field that was young. I think it’s important to study and fund basic research. I wanted to study C. diff and just happened to meander down the road of drug possibilities. Without basic research, we wouldn’t have been able to go even remotely into the applied side.”
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