Candida albicans

The role of mitochondria in fungal pathogenesis

Candida albicans is one of the fungal species most commonly causing life threatening infections in vulnerable patients. Our group is studying the mitochondria in Candida albicans cells.

Just like in our cells the mitochondria are the batteries of the cell, producing energy required for growth and in fungal cells can also influence infection.

The mitochondria can influence components of the fungal cell wall and its ability to infect us.

If we understand how mitochondria are influencing these factors, we can develop new anti-fungals or we can use existing anti-fungals in new combinations in order to tackle life threatening infections.

Lucian Duvenage works in Dr Campbell Gourlay's lab at the University of Kent

The host-pathogen struggle for nutrients

We can view an infection as a battle between the human host and the microbial invader. The outcome of which decides whether the host remains healthy or succumbs to disease. As this battle rages microbial invaders use their hosts as a source of nutrients.

However, the human body has evolved complex systems to limit access to certain essential nutrients in an attempt to starve the invading microbes and prevent disease.

We call these processes nutritional immunity. Therefore, to win the battle and cause disease microbial pathogens must have evolved strategies to thrive in a nutritionally restrictive environment within its infected host.

We are interested in exploring how the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans adapts to limitations to essential trace nutrient zinc. We have identified specific coping mechanisms that are adopted by this fungus in order to deal with nutritional immunity. In response to zinc starvation, Candida albicans dramatically changed their cell shape.

We therefore want to know how this change is regulated and what impact it has on the progression of infection with the ultimate aim to therapeutically manipulate the system and push the balance back in favour of the human host to prevent disease.

Dhara Malavia works in Dr Duncan Wilson's lab at the University of Aberdeen.

Detecting and Destroying Fungi with Antibodies

Every year more than one million people die from a fungal infection. This figure is higher than the number of lives taken by malaria and almost as many as those claimed by HIV or tuberculosis. To make a difference in this area we urgently need to address two key issues.

First of all, we need to diagnose fungal infections more accurately and earlier on during the course of disease as we know that every day we fail to make an accurate diagnosis, we lose more and more of our patients.

Secondly, we need to develop the first vaccines for fungal infection and get them into the clinic and develop new antifungal drugs which are more effective at treating and killing the fungus and have fewer side effects.

With these in mind, my research project focuses on developing antibodies which have been cloned from the DNA taken directly from human antibody producing cells. therefore making them more compatible with our own immune systems.

These antibodies have great potential to make a huge impact in the way we diagnose and treat fungal infections in the future, ultimately improving patient quality of life and saving more lives.

Dr Fiona Rudkin works in Professor Neil Gow's lab at the University of Aberdeen.