Bailey award recipient aims to fight infectious disease

By Paula Van Brocklin, Office of the Vice President for Research

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) causes an infectious disease that sickens about a half million Americans each year, resulting in approximately 15,000 deaths. The larger concern is that the bacterium is increasingly developing resistance to antibiotics.

Iowa State University’s Brett Sponseller, associate professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine, believes an orally administered vaccine delivered through a probiotic is the answer to curbing the rise of C. difficile in both humans and animals. Following a competitive application process administered by the Office of the Vice President for Research, Sponseller was awarded with a 2019 Bailey Research Career Development Award. He will receive $150,000 over three years.

Sponseller speculates that Clostridium scindens, a type of probiotic bacteria that can be delivered orally, can be genetically modified such that it activates the immune system to produce protective antibodies that counter toxins made during C. difficile infection. In addition, he surmises Clostridium scindens will alter the bile acid profile of both humans and animals, allowing control of the disease through multiple mechanisms.

Each year, the Bailey award is given to faculty to foster innovative research outside of an established program, which not only builds new fundamental knowledge, but also has practical applications. The goal of the award is to allow faculty to devote time toward high-risk, high-impact research that addresses emerging scientific, technical and/or societal problems resulting in practical applications, and in appropriate disciplines, extramural funding.

“Dr. Sponseller’s investigations into a fundamentally new way of preventing the infectious Clostridium difficile disease perfectly highlights the purpose of the Bailey award – to offer funding that allows promising basic research to move forward for the common good,” said Sarah Nusser, vice president for research.

The Bailey Research Career Development Award was established by a gift from Carl A. and Grace A. Bailey. The award is $50,000 per year for up to three years.