Maryland researchers are working on a new drug therapy for fungal infection.

While most people associate fungal infections with a mostly harmless condition like athlete’s foot, there are certain fungal strains that can prove fatal. Once common primarily in India, the fungus behind Madura Foot has spread as of late into the southern United States. In fact, fungal diseases recently outpaced both tuberculosis and malaria in number of annual deaths, the Daily Mail reported in 2015.

The problem with many of these fungal diseases and ailments is that they often work quickly to destroy both bone and tissue, and sometimes debridement is the only way to have a lasting impact on these nasty microbial fiends. However, there has been renewed interest in finding ways to counteract fungus.

In spring 2016, scientists from the U.K.’s University of Manchester developed a form of “super honey” that can combat several fungal strains. Now, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine have taken new strides in battling deadly types of fungal infection.

Stemming the tide

As part of a study published in the journal Nature Communication, the UMSOM team have unveiled important new insights into one key strain, the Mucorales fungi. Though one of the most studied of the fungi, a 2013 report in the journal Persoonia noted that Mucorales is among the oldest of the fungi groups, and thus has a great deal to offer in terms of understanding basic fungi behavior and composition.

The Maryland scientists looked at several different species of the Mucorales fungus – there are between 50 and 100 total – focusing on 25 shared genes. During the course of their extensive research, the scientists found several different genes that allow the fungi to invade the host organism in the first place. Understanding how these genes work can help scientists find ways to shut them off, and that can be applied to several different types of fungal infection. But the one most applicable to the research is called mucormycosis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this fungal infection most commonly affects people with compromised immune systems.

Though the strain is somewhat rare, the CDC mentioned that mucormycosis still has an overall all-cause mortality rate of 54 percent. Plenty of people are at risk, like diabetic or transplant patients and those with open wounds, and there is no vaccine cure for mucormycosis. By inhibiting the fungi’s platelet-derived growth factor receptor, which helps it grow, the Maryland team was able to prevent the Mucorales from invading a host cell.

While research will continue into this and other strands of fungi, Drug Discovery and Development magazine noted that there are already several FDA-approved drugs that can inhibit PGDFR. That’s going to streamline the development of more effective anti-fungal therapies.


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