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A bitter pill for a sugar-coated killer

Dr Fritz Mühlschlegel, a Reader at the Department of Biosciences, University of Kent, and Consultant Medical Microbiologist in the East Kent Hospitals Trust, has been awarded £400k by the Medical Research Council to combat fungal brain infection.

The fungus Cryptococcus neoformans can infect the human brain leading to disease (cryptococcosis) that is usually fatal if untreated. It is ‘dressed to kill’ with a sugar coat that protects it against attack by the human immune system. Dr Mühlschlegel will now conduct research into how the production of the fungal sugar coat is regulated. Previously his team discovered how elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide, found in the human body, influence the production of the fungal sugar coat. With this grant he can now investigate the molecular detail of this process.

Dr Mühlschlegel said: ‘Almost 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV and more than 60% of these (approximately 25.8 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa. Cryptococcosis is the initial defining illness in 88% of AIDS patients in southern Africa. In addition to these HIV infected cases, we also see cryptococcal infection in immunosuppressed transplant patients.’

Professor Peter Jeffries, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Technology and Medical Sciences at the University of Kent said: ‘This is excellent news in that a better understanding of Cryptococcus neoformans may identify additional ways to diagnose and treat this important fungal infection.’

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Ruth Lapworth, Clinical Director of Pathology in the East Kent Hospitals Trust said: ‘Pathology services already have very strong links with the Department of Biosciences and the Medical Research Council award will underline this further.’

Gary Hughes | alfa
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