Preventing Fatal Infections

Natalia Blanco

The dissertation research of Epidemiology doctoral student Natalia Blanco focuses on Clostridium difficile infection, a toxin-mediated intestinal disease.

C. difficile infection can present with a very broad spectrum of clinical manifestations, from mild diarrhea to more severe disease such as toxic megacolon, pseudomembranous colitis, sepsis and death.

C. difficile infection is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections, killing 14,000 people and sickening 100,000 annually in the U.S. Severe cases are treated using fecal transplants.
As a public health student, Natalia’s goal is to learn how to prevent C. difficile infections. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the correlation between C.difficile toxin and spore production within its host.

For her dissertation, Natalia is:

  1. Creating a within-host mathematical model to simulate pathogenicity and sporulation patterns.
  2. Collecting stool samples from a local hospital for testing as part of fieldwork.
  3. Screening the stool samples in the laboratory for C. difficile spores and toxins.

An improved understanding of how spore and toxin production are associated in vivo will provide essential information to improve C. difficile patient management and infection control practices to prevent C. difficile transmission.

Natalia is co-advised by ITiMS training faculty Marisa Eisenberg and Betsy Foxman.