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New study provides deep dive into deadly fungal infections

1955Dr. Lucille K. GeorgMature sporangium of Mucor species.30, Slide 042Fungi lack the big name players fielded by the viruses — such as HIV and Zika — or the bacteria — think salmonella, streptococcus. But that doesn't mean their infections are any less problematic.

A new study from University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers and colleagues examines a group of fungi from the Mucorales order, which cause infections known as mucormycosis.

These largely soil-dwelling microbes usually attack people with weakened immune systems, transplant patients, those with uncontrolled diabetes or someone who has suffered a trauma or burn. (For example, there was a fungal outbreak following the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo. and the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, and there have been cases from soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

The researchers examined how the fungi cause infections as well as the genetic relationships between different species. "I think this work is going to provide a significant resource for future fungal research. Now we can dig into the data to find new targets for treatment," said co-lead author Vincent Bruno, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a press release. The release continues:

The researchers say 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.

It's possible that some drugs already in use may block these infections, according to Bruno, and co-lead author Ashraf Ibrahim, PhD, a professor of medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center and a researcher at LA BioMed, a nonprofit biomedical research group.

That's good news, as "antifungal therapy alone is rarely curative," the researchers write: Its mortality rate ranges from about 50 percent, to more than 90 percent.

The study appeared in Nature Communications.

Previously: Humble anti-fungal pill appears to have a noble side-effect: treating skin cancer and Stanford Medicine magazine traverses the immune system
Photo by CDC/Dr. Lucille K. Georg

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