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Doctoral student seeks way to treat health care-associated infection caused by antibiotics

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Brintha Parasumanna Girinathan, doctoral student in genetics at Kansas State University, has identified a protein that is essential for the transmission of a health care-associated infection. This finding could lead to the development of a better treatment plan against this infection. | Download this photo.


MANHATTAN — A common and serious infection sparked by antibiotic overuse is the major research focus for a Kansas State University doctoral student who has discovered the infection's essential protein: SinR.

Brintha Parasumanna Girinathan, doctoral student in genetics from India, said that Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, is an unseen monster that resides in health care facilities. Infection by this bacterium can cause symptoms ranging from mild diarrhea to life-threatening toxic megacolon, which is a widening of the large intestine. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 500,000 people in the U.S. caught the infection in 2011, and 29,000 died within 30 days of diagnosis.

"Such a prevalent and sometimes deadly disease needs more specific treatment, and our work identified SinR as a potential target for such a treatment," said Girinathan, who is a graduate research assistant. "Now that my work has identified SinR as the necessary target, we know how to control this infection more efficiently."

Without efficient targeted treatment, C. difficile patients usually get recurrent infections due to the presence of spores, which are the passive form of the bacterium, Girinathan said. SinR is needed for spore formation. The protein is not naturally occurring in the body and is specific to C. difficile. When Girinathan modified the protein, the bacteria became paralyzed, lost mobility and could no longer produce spores.

"This is a key finding because the presence or absence of this protein determines whether the bacteria can make spores or not," said Revathi Govind, assistant professor of biology and Girinathan's lead professor.

Typical antibiotics taken for an underlying condition worsen the C. difficile infection for two reasons. First, they disrupt levels of harmful and helpful bacteria, the latter of which help to suppress C. difficile and keep other potential infections at bay, Girinathan said. Second, antibiotics only treat C. difficile's active form, leaving the passive form — known as spores — untouched. These spores are basically dormant bacteria covered in shells that can withstand antibiotics.

"Without the spores, C. difficile cannot spread from person to person," Govind said. "I look forward to seeing this finding lead to a treatment for the infection."

Girinathan said the medical field may be able to use her finding to develop a vaccine or design a more specific drug to treat C. difficile, which mainly spreads through the fecal-oral route.

Until a treatment is developed, Girinathan said there are only two ways to prevent C. difficile: wash hands with soap and avoid unnecessary rounds of antibiotics.

"Simple hand-washing could be the key preventative measure for this and for other deadly infections," she said.

Girinathan's research was recently published in mSphere, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology. She has presented this research at the International Conference on Gram-Positive Pathogens; a meeting of the Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, or K-INBRE; and most recently at Kansas State University's Three Minute Thesis Competition, where she was one of eight finalists.


Revathi Govind


Parasumanna Girinathan is Para-sue-mahn-nuh Gear-rah-nah-thon;
Revathi is Rev-vah-thee.


Division of Biology

Written by

Tiffany Roney