Irish scientists have helped identify a new antibiotic which could revolutionise the treatment of hospital superbug Clostridium Difficile.
The potentially life-saving breakthrough could help fight the bug -- commonly known as C-Diff -- which is the fastest spreading hospital-acquired illness in Europe.
It is extremely difficult to treat because of its resistance to most existing antibiotics.
The bug can prove extremely dangerous for the very young, the elderly, the seriously ill and those recovering from major surgery, and is now being linked to thousands of deaths worldwide as a result of hospital-acquired infections.
Now, however, a team of scientists from University College Cork (UCC) has identified a new antibiotic, Thuricin CD, that is extremely effective in a targeted treatment of C-Diff.
The discovery, the results of which were published yesterday in the prestigious US journal, 'National Academy of Sciences', has been hailed as potentially one of the most remarkable healthcare achievements in Ireland over the past decade.
An Irish team of Professor Colin Hill of UCC and Professor Paul Ross of Teagasc-Moorepark was working with a team from the University of Alberta, Canada, and an Irish academic, Mary Rea, who conducted the key experiments on Thuricin CD as part of her PhD research.
It is estimated that the annual cost of treating the severe diarrhoea associated with C-Diff amounts to €3bn in the EU alone. Broad-spectrum antibiotics struggle both to eliminate a C-Diff infection and prevent its reoccurrence.
New strains of C-Diff have been emerging which are resistant to even these antibiotics. Initial tests have shown that the new antibiotic, Thuricin CD, is not only effective in treating a C-Diff infection but is vastly more successful in preventing repeat outbreaks.
"The recovery of normal gut flora is important for recovery of C-Diff associated diseases, but the use of broad spectrum antibiotics can delay this process," Prof Hill explained.
Because of the importance of gut flora (bugs), the Irish team at UCC and Teagasc-Moorepark analysed the very bacterial populations that keep C-Diff at bay during normal conditions.
The potent new antibiotic -- Thuricin CD -- was discovered by screening more than 30,000 bacteria isolated from the human stomach.
A method for delivering the new antibiotic as part of a C-Diff treatment regime is now being worked on.