Synthetic sugar molecule may help fight hospital germs

London: Researchers have constructed a synthetic sugar molecule as a cost-effective alternative for immunisation that could protect patients against one of the most dangerous hospital germs.

The deadly gut bacterium Clostridium difficile (C. difficile, or C. diff) infects a large proportion of patients in hospitals and becomes incurable, as the bacteria tends to develop resistance to antibiotics.

The molecule developed has a sugar resemblance to those on the surface of C. difficile cells and is likely to elicit immune response against the gut bacterium, acting as a vaccine against the infection.

Once the immune system has produced antibodies against a pathogen, it can fend off the invaders in the event of a later infection.

The molecule can be thus also administered to sick patients to boost their immune system and combat other infections.

“Our findings are a very good example of how basic research into the human immune response to sugars can lead to new candidates in the fight against dangerous hospital germs,” said Peter H. Seeberger, director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Germany.

For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the team investigated parts of the sugar coating necessary to trigger an immune response in mice.

Then they constructed an artificial molecule with the sugars attached to an amino acid backbone.

The mice were then treated with the artificial molecule, which produced antibodies effective against C. difficile when they were exposed to it.

Coupled with an immunostimulating peptide, the molecule stimulated the immune system in mice to produce antibodies that were effective against the similarly constructed surface sugars of C. difficile.

The mice are therefore protected against a subsequent infection with the bacterium.