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‘Our ultimate goal is to reduce the number of Clostridium difficile infections’

Romy Zwittink is a researcher for the Department of Medical Microbiology at Leiden University Medical Centre and will be speaking at the NCOH Annual Scientific Meeting on 30 May 2018 on the subject of Clostridium difficile and the intestinal microbiome. We asked her three preliminary questions.

What question are you trying to answer with your research?

We are researching the relationship between the composition of the intestinal microbiota and the presence of Clostridium difficile bacteria.

Why is this important?

Clostridium difficile makes up part of the intestinal microbiota in approximately four per cent of people. When this balance is disrupted, due to the use of antibiotics, for example, Clostridium difficile can become dominant, produce toxins and cause intestinal infections. If the standard treatment does not work, and the infection recurs, transplantation of faecal microbiota may offer a solution. This treatment ensures that the levels of gut microbiota return to normal and the production of toxins by Clostridium difficile is suppressed.

Clostridium difficile can be present in the intestinal microbiota without causing disease. These ‘asymptomatic carriers’ probably play a role in spreading the bacteria in the environment and to other people, in hospitals and nursing homes, for example. We currently have too little insight into the factors influenced by asymptomatic carriers. The composition and function of the intestinal microbiota could possibly play a role.

What do you ultimately want to achieve?

Our ultimate goal is to reduce the number of Clostridium difficile infections and in doing so reduce the related morbidity and mortality. Once we know the type of composition of the gut microbiota, or which specific microorganisms suppress the colonisation or growth of Clostridium difficile, we can respond accordingly. For example, we can then select the best donor for faecal transplantation, or develop this principle further to create a supplement containing specific microorganisms to either cure or prevent Clostridium difficile infections.