Aberdeen University wins £5.1m grant to tackle fungal infections

New strategies needed to combat life-threatening invasive fungal infections

Left to right: Professor Gordon Brown, Professor Neil Gow and Professor Al Brown from the University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen has been awarded £5.1m from the Wellcome Trust to lead a major UK collaboration to tackle the problem of fungal infections.

The Aberdeen Fungal Group – the biggest fungal research group in Britain and one of the largest in the world – will head the new Medical Mycology and Fungal Immunology Consortium, which will also be supported by scientists at Imperial College London and the Universities of Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Kent, Exeter and other UK institutions.

The Consortium’s aims include:

  • Taking research from the lab into the clinic and pharmaceutical industry to develop better diagnostics and more effective treatments for fungal infections
  • Leading a research and training programme, harnessing UK expertise, to understand fungal infections and immunity to these diseases better and to train a new generation of scientists and clinicians
  • Promoting greater public awareness of fungal infections using channels such as You Tube and the Internet.

Professor Neil Gow, chair in Microbiology at the University of Aberdeen, and director of the Consortium, said: ‘People are very familiar with superficial fungal infections, such as ringworm and athlete’s foot, which affect approximately a quarter of the world’s population and are usually easily treated.

‘Fungal infections of the mouth and genitals are also common – thrush is estimated to affect 75 million women each year – while oral infections are common in babies and denture wearers. Again these can be treated relatively easily in healthy patients.

‘However, invasive fungal infections in the major organs of the body are associated with high mortality rates.’

Gow said cancer, trauma and HIV patients, and those who have undergone bone and organ transplants, are more susceptible to fungal infections and new strategies are desperately needed to combat them as they can be life-threatening.

Professor Al Brown, a chair in Microbiology at the University of Aberdeen and Co-Director, added: ‘There are a number of different fungal pathogens but the big four that pose the most risk are Candida, Aspergillus, Pneumocystis and Cryptococcus. Each year Candida is estimated to cause 400,000 life-threatening systemic infections of the body’s major organs.

‘We need better treatment for fungal infections, better ways of diagnosing the problem and better understanding of its immunology and pathology and those are the challenges our consortium will tackle.’

The Consortium will also create 10 international PhD studentships, three clinical PhD studentships and six post-doctoral research assistant posts that will be spread across UK institutions.