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New funding targets C. difficile

Researcher Elaine Petrof’s synthetic stool treatment garners major U.S. funding

Queen’s researcher Elaine Petrof has been awarded major funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The up to $1.2 million will enable a multi-institutional team to further develop Repoopulate, a synthetically derived alternative to fecal transplants, used to treat recurrent C. difficile infection.

Early trials of the defined microbe cocktail with a small number of patients at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) have shown it to be highly effective in curing the hard-to-treat, often fatal, disease.

“We’ll be optimizing the formulation to test it in an early stage clinical trial,” says Dr. Petrof, (School of Medicine), a clinician-researcher at the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute (KGHRI). Dr. Petrof’s hospital work is being conducted through the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit at Queen’s University.

Dr. Petrof is working with colleagues at the University of Guelph and Western University on the synthetic stool product.

“This funding is a tremendous boost for a very promising and innovative discovery,” says Roger Deeley, Vice-Dean Research, Faculty of Health Sciences and KGHRI president. “It will ensure that Dr. Petrof and her team continue to advance their efforts to address a common, widespread and serious health threat. It is wonderful to see work being done in this exciting new research frontier being recognized in this way.” 

While there are numerous C. difficile therapies being developed based on human stool samples, Dr. Petrof’s group is the first to produce a synthetic form of the beneficial microbes, using cultures processed in a “robotic gut” bioreactor developed at the University of Guelph. “We’re different from stool transplants because we know exactly what’s in our mixture,” she says. “This means a safer, more reproducible product.”

The group’s goal is to develop a more effective fecal transplant treatment for recurrent C. difficile.

“If this works, we’ve been approached to expand it to other diseases,” Dr. Petrof says. “Emerging research is showing potential for the use of fecal transplants to treat conditions such as ulcerative colitis and obesity.”