CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Scientists at the University of Virginia are using computer technology to better understand C. difficile, a potentially deadly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections in the country.

The team at UVA Health believes the work represents a big step forward in the use of a form of predictive computer modeling called GENREs to battle infectious diseases.

The results are believed to speed the development of new treatments for C. difficile infections, which affect half a million Americans and claim thousands of lives annually.

“What we found was that we were able to predict some new signals that we were then able to take forward into the laboratory out of the computer and into the actual bug itself, and show that we could manipulate that very specifically,” said Matthew Genior, a postdoctoral research associate working on the project.

The implications of these findings are that the team can now use the model to find new targets in the bacteria’s metabolism and therefore discover how to prevent it from continuing to infect hosts. 

The team is still working through animal trials but hopes to begin human tests soon. Should the trials be successful, the researchers believe it could save thousands of lives.