For the Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI), being an independent, nonprofit research organization has its benefits. And being able to seize unexpected opportunities as they emerge is an important one.
While researching an unrelated science question, members of PNRI’s Dudley Lab noticed an interesting response of the pathogenic yeast, Candida albicans, to a naturally occurring chemical found in wine and flowers. The chemical made the cells – which had become resistant to a commonly prescribed antifungal drug – sensitive to it again.
The team was excited to explore this discovery because it suggested there might be new ways to put FDA approved drugs back into the arsenal that physicians use to fight dangerous fungal infections.
Why Do We Need New and Improved Antifungal Therapies?
Fungal infections are a major health problem in the United States and around the globe. They are most dangerous for people with compromised immune systems, such as patients receiving chemotherapy, people with uncontrolled HIV, and premature infants. By many estimates, deaths from invasive fungal infections – estimated at 1.5 million annually across the globe – outnumber those from malaria.
According to Lauren Ames, PhD, a fungal pathogen expert in the Dudley Lab, “these infections are so deadly because we have a very limited number of drugs available, plus fungal pathogens are becoming resistant to the drugs that we have. The problem is worsened by the fact that limited research funding means few new drugs are being developed.”
Recently, this global health problem made headlines in The New York Times, including an article titled, A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy.
Discoveries from the Dudley Lab
Researchers at PNRI are driven to accelerate discoveries from the lab to real-world applications.
This research is still in the early stages. However, according to Catherine Ludlow, a yeast genetics expert in the Dudley Lab, “understanding the mechanisms by which this chemical re-sensitizes fungal pathogens to antifungal drugs could even uncover ways to combat other types of drug resistance, such as bacterial resistance to antibiotics and cancer cell resistance to chemotherapeutics.”