Fungus infections are usually considered as nothing more than mere annoyances, for example athlete’s foot. However some fungal infections can be life threatening as well.
A new study by scientists 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 fungus infections. For example, all of the mucormycosis-causing fungi tested contained several copies of a gene known to be involved in host invasion.
There are between 50 and 100 species of the Mucorales fungus.
Generally the fungus invades the cells of people with weakened immune systems and causes a sometimes-deadly infection known as mucormycosis. This infection can occur
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 fungus infections are considered to be rare, but researchers have noted that they are probably often overlooked and under-reported, and so may be much more common than previously realized.
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.
Researchers are now beginning research to find out whether this protein can be targeted to treat these fungal infections. They suspect that there may be existing drugs, already approved by the FDA that can effectively inhibit PGDFR; this would make the path to finding treatment for these fungal infections much simpler.