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Disease causing fungus under scrutiny

Candida albicans, a common fungus which can cause life-threatening infections, will be put under scrutiny in an effort to find new methods of prevention and treatment.

Dr Jan Schmid at Massey University’s Institute of Molecular Biosciences and his colleagues, Dr Peter Lockhart from the same institute and Dr Richard Cannon from the Department of Oral Sciences and Orthodontics at the University of Otago, have been awarded a grant from the competitive Marsden Fund to investigate the genetics of a group of particularly harmful Candida strains.
Candida albicans is a major fungal pathogen in humans, causing both superficial infections such as oral thrush as well as life-threatening infections of the blood stream. In New Zealand the number of reported infections doubles every three years and the fungus poses an increasingly serious threat to human health worldwide.

The prevention and treatment of these infections is of great medical importance, but is limited by our lack of fundamental knowledge of the genetic differences between the various forms of the fungus.

Dr Schmid’s group has previously discovered a group of Candida strains which can cause disease up to 100 times more often then others, and the group will use modern DNA techniques to compare the genetic make-up of these strains with a large number of other Candida albicans types.

The group aims to map the organisms’ genomes in order to find the genes which make some strains so successful as pathogens. The experiments will help the researchers to deduce which gene products are responsible for causing human disease. The findings will then be confirmed by examining the genes expressed by strains of Candida albicans obtained from human carriers and patients with oral thrush.

The results of this research will provide the basis for new approaches to the prevention and treatment of fungal infections in humans.
The group’s grant is worth $180,000 a year for the next three years.

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