`Deadly` fungal infection research paves way for cure

Washington D.C, Jul 25 : They may be generally viewed as annoyances, but it turns out, fungal infections can be life threatening. Some experts estimate that tens of thousands of patients die every year from these infections. Now, a new study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) has provided new insights into one of these microbes, the Mucorales fungi, which can cause fatal infections. The researchers delineated several key aspects of the fungus that might help researchers develop treatments. Right now, there is no way to treat these fungal infections. For example, all of the mucormycosis-causing fungi tested contained several copies of a gene known to be involved in host invasion. "I think this work is going to provide a significant resource for future fungal research," said lead co-author Vincent Bruno. "Now we can dig into the data to find new targets for treatment." There are between 50 and 100 species of the Mucorales fungus. The team compared the genes of 25 of these. The study identified several pathways that are required for mucormycosis to develop in a patient. Patients whose immune systems are not working properly are especially at risk. This group includes patients with diabetes, people who have recently undergone transplants or who have suffered wounds. In addition to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fungal infections also appeared in some patients hurt in the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and the tornadoes that occurred in Joplin, Missouri, in 2011. These infections are considered to be rare, but Bruno noted that they are probably often overlooked and underreported, and so may be much more common than previously realized. "There are no vaccines or effective therapies available today to halt the highly fatal mucormycosis infection," said other lead author Ashraf S. Ibrahim. "There is an urgent need for additional research to develop strategies to protect patients with weakened immune systems." The researchers said that they have identified a pathway that has the potential to be targeted to treat these infections. It appears that these fungi are less able to invade human cells after the inhibition of a protein called platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PGDFR), which plays a key role in cell growth. The study appears in the journal Nature Communication.