Fungal infections have recently emerged as a growing threat to human health, especially in people whose immune systems are compromised in some way. For example, fungi are associated with complex disease entities in complex medical patients (e.g., cryptococcosis in AIDS patients or aspergillosis in bone marrow or organ transplant patients). Clinicians are particularly concerned that the increasing use of antifungal drugs will lead to drug-resistant fungi, especially in settings such as hospitals where nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections are a growing problem. Recent studies have documented resistance of Candida species to fluconazole and other azole and triazole drugs, which are used widely to treat patients with systemic fungal diseases.
In addition, primary or inherent resistance limits the activity or currently available antifungal drugs for fungi such as Aspergillus and other emerging molds.
Fungi present an especially complex challenge to researchers, in part because pathogenicity is often associated with certain morphological forms or a certain part of the life cycle of a fungal species. For example, pathogens such as Histoplasma capsulatum, Coccidioides immitis, or Sporothrix schenckii convert from one morphological form to another in the host tissue before they propagate to cause disease. Cryptococcus neoformans causes infection only in the asexual form of its life cycle (yeast cells). The molecular biological progress made in Cryptococcus neoformans over the past five years attests to the importance of collaborative research between medical and molecular researchers. Researchers are identifying a series of antigenic peptides from fungal pathogens that can generate immune responses, which may assist in developing an antifungal vaccine.
Research on fungal diseases focuses on three goals: providing better means of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the most important human fungal infections. Objectives leading to the achievement of these goals are grouped in the following five research areas:
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Last Updated April 16, 2006