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December 19, 2005

Scientists at the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science have a new understanding of the pathological mechanisms that occur in the body when potentially deadly C. difficile infections take hold.

The discovery has provided scientists with information that could lead to new treatments that block the toxins released by the pathogen, which kills hundreds of people each year in Canada.

The research, led by the University of Calgary’s Dr. Ken Ng, demonstrates how C. difficile toxins bind to carbohydrates on intestinal cells as the first step to damaging the intestine. Damage caused by the toxins ultimately leads to the major symptoms of diarrhea and inflammation associated with C. difficile infections.

“The information obtained from our study provides a promising new avenue to develop effective carbohydrate-based therapies that will specifically target the toxin binding mechanisms of the C. difficile infection process,” said Ng, Principal Investigator at the Carbohydrate Centre. “We hope a therapeutic that inhibits the binding of toxins to intestinal cells would go a long way to limiting the damage and effects of C. difficile infections.”

Armed with this new understanding, researchers from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary – coordinated through the provincial Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science – are researching treatments that block the toxins as they bind to the surfaces of cells.

“As C. difficile strains become more virulent and resistant to antibiotics, alternatives to antibiotic treatment for infection are clearly needed,” said Dr. David Bundle, Director of the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science. “The expertise of the Carbohydrate Centre team at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary is now working to meet this challenge and successfully develop an effective therapeutic for this unmet medical need.”

The results, entitled "Crystal structure of receptor-binding C-terminal repeats from Clostridium difficile toxin A” were published on December 12, 2005 by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and can be found here.


About the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science
The centre is a global leader in pure and applied carbohydrate research, drawing on the expertise of its principal investigators from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, who work together on the role carbohydrates play in biology. Research at the centre is contributing to the development of vaccines for infectious disease and the discovery of new treatments for cancer and auto-immune disease, as well as developing the analytical methods and techniques required for such uses.

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For more information, contact:

Dr. Andrew Malcolm
Centre Manager, Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science
Phone: (780) 492-7784
Email: Andrew.Malcolm@ualberta.ca

Dr. Ken Ng
Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
University of Calgary
Phone: (403) 220-4320

Jeremy Fritsche
Alberta Ingenuity
Phone: (780) 429-7664