A team of researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Massachusetts Medical School discovered a compound that prevents Candida albicans, a common fungus known as candida, from latching onto human cells or the polystyrene plastic commonly used to make medical devices. The compound, named filastatin, works by interfering with two early phases of the fungal infections that can cause thrush, vaginitis and most of the hospital-acquired infections in humans.
Most candida infections begin when the harmless ovoid phase (shown on the right) adheres to a surface, such as a human cell or the plastic of an intravenous line. Once the fungus has a foothold, it enters the infectious phase (shown on the left) where it unfurls fringed filaments that pierce and damage the substance it clings to. The findings of their study are published in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From the press release:
The team found that filastatin curtailed both steps: it largely prevented C. albicans from adhering to various surfaces, and it significantly reduced filamentation (inspiring the name filastatin).
As a next step, the team tested filastatin's impact on C. albicans cells that had grown unfettered in test wells and had already adhered to the polystyrene walls. When the compound was added to the culture mix, it knocked off many of the fungal cells already stuck to the polystyrene. The inhibitory effects of filastatin were further tested on human lung cells, mouse vaginal cells, and live worms (C. elgans) exposed to the fungus to see if it would reduce adhesion and infection. In all cases, the novel small molecule had significant protective effects without showing toxicity to the host tissues.
As discussed in the press release, existing anti-fungal treatments are successful, but only some of the time and to varying degrees. If additional studies fully vet filastatin as a new anti-fungal therapy, it could provide a more effective way to treat the millions of cases of candida infections that affect people worldwide.
Photo by Worcester Polytechnic Institute