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Novel technique 'sniffs' C. diff for faster detection

Posted: 02 Sep 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:University of Leicester  Clostridium difficile  volatile organic compound 

Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed what they describe as a fast-sensitive "electronic-nose" for sniffing the highly infectious bacteria Clostridium difficile (C. diff) that causes diarrhoea, and temperature and stomach cramps. Using a mass spectrometer, the team has demonstrated that it is possible to identify the unique 'smell' of C. diff that would lead to rapid diagnosis of the condition.

What is more, the Leicester team said it could be possible to identify different strains of the disease simply from their smell, a chemical fingerprint, helping medics to target the particular condition.

Paul Monks, a professor from the Department of Chemistry, said: "The rapid detection and identification of the bug Clostridium difficile (often known as C. diff) is a primary concern in healthcare facilities. Rapid and accurate diagnoses are important to reduce C. diff infections, as well as to provide the right treatment to infected patients.

"Delayed treatment and inappropriate antibiotics not only cause high morbidity and mortality, but also add costs to the healthcare system through lost bed days.

Different strains of C. diff can cause different symptoms and may need to be treated differently so a test that could determine not only an infection, but what type of infection could lead to new treatment options."

Martha Clokie, Andy Ellis and Paul Monks

This image shows from left to right Martha Clokie, Andy Ellis and Paul Monks from the University of Leicester with the mass spectrometer.

The research from the University of Leicester has shown that is possible to 'sniff' the infection for rapid detection of C. diff. The team measured the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given out by different of strains of C. diff and have shown that many of them have a unique "smell". In particular, different strains show different chemical fingerprints that are detected by a mass spectrometer.

The work was a collaboration between university chemists who developed the "electronic-nose" for sniffing volatiles and a colleague in microbiology who has a large collection of well characterised strains of C. diff.

The work suggests that the detection of the chemical fingerprint may allow for a rapid means of identifying C. diff infection, as well as providing markers for the way the different strains grow.

Monks added: "Our approach may lead to a rapid clinical diagnostic test based on the VOCs released from faecal samples of patients infected with C. diff. We do not underestimate the challenges in sampling and attributing C. diff VOCs from faecal samples."

Image of C. diff

This is an image of C. diff

Martha Clokie, PhD, from the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Leicester, added: "Current tests for C. diff don't generally give strain information. This test could allow doctors to see what strain was causing the illness and allow doctors to tailor their treatment."

Andy Ellis, a professor from the department of chemistry at the University of Leicester, said: "This work shows great promise. The different strains of C. diff have significantly different chemical fingerprints and with further research we would hope to be able to develop a reliable and almost instantaneous tool for detecting a specific strain, even if present in very small quantities."





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