January 31, 2011

Let's talk about Candida albicans!

After starting this blog with a couple of posts about scientific concepts and a few ways to play with biological information let me tell you a bit more about our research interest today. Candida albicans is the core focus of the european FINSysB research network. It is comprised of eleven internationally renowned labs from all over Europe as well as an industrial partner, F2G Ltd. ,for quick translation into the clinic. Usually, most research papers in our field start with a statement such as: "C. albicans is ordinarily found as a commensal yeast colonizing the human gastrointestinal tract."; "The opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans is a leading cause of death in patients with fungal infections." or "Candida albicans is commonly found as a benign commensal in many warm-blooded animals. In humans it mainly resides on the skin and on mucosal surfaces without causing significant harm to the host."

But what does this actually tell you. Not a lot I guess. Basically, there is no reason to be afraid of Candida albicans if you are healthy and your immune system is in good shape. And even if not you shouldn't be alarmed because in most cases C. albicans is kept in check by the immune system. Some studies say that more than 80% of all humans carry Candida albicans on their mucosal surfaces and the gut. Most cases of fungal infections are either oral or vaginal thrush which are easily treatable by a capable physician and are unpleasant but not deadly.
The picture changes when C. albicans penetrates into the blood stream and/or the immune system is severely compromised as in ICU patients after major surgery or HIV patients. Here the mortality is going up to 40%, mainly because diagnostics are not fast enough and there are not enough effective antifungals available. The main problem here is that the fungal infection quickly disseminates to other organs, especially the kidneys, and destroys the tissue. In addition, in recent times Candida albicans is developing resistances to the few effective antifungals we have and evades treatment that way.
So the FINSysB consortium has several goals in which we hope to help treating clinicians as well as researchers in understanding both the inner workings of C. albicans as well as new treatment options. For that we defined four basic research areas: The "Fungal Armoury" is all about finding out how C. albicans is able to attack our cells and penetrate healthy tissue. Our body defends itself with "Defensive Shields"that kill of the fungus and prevent the infection from spreading. This battle is quite dynamic and a back and forth on the "Key Battlefields", mainly the surface of both C. albicans and our cells. Finally, we want to help to "Defeat the Enemy" by developing faster diagnostic methods, effective antifungals and ultimately a vaccine.
So have a look at our website, read about us in the European parliament magazine (page 78) or just comment if you have questions. But read our disclaimer first to avoid disappointment.

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