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A bridge between commensalism, allergy and infection provides new hope for a women´s neglected disease

Group Urban smallUmeå university scientists have shown how mast cells, immune cells typically associated with allergy and asthma, act as sentinels to orchestrate the immune response against the fungus Candida albicans the leading cause of fungal vaginitis. Vaginitis is a common women´s health concern affecting 75% of women at some time in their lives. Getting a grip on how the body senses the entry of fungal pathogens offers major opportunities for designing new strategies to improve women´s health. Details can be found in a recent research report published in the prestigious journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Sweden has already achieved so much in reducing inequalities between genders, but infectious disease targeting women remain understudied. At the same time, reducing the fungal disease spectrum to a men vs women problem ignores the 1.5 million people that die every year due to fungal infections. “A main driver in our research has always been the perspective to provide the basis for new, advanced therapies against both life-threatening invasive infection and to help calling attention to neglected diseases” - says José Pedro Lopes from the Department of Clinical Microbiology, who along with Marios Stylianou is a shared first author of the work.
While most individuals since their birth are in contact with Candida albicans as part of the normal body flora, the fungus causes serious illness or even death particularly among those with weakened immune system. An exception is otherwise healthy women suffering from vulvovaginal candidiasis. Although not life-threatening, this form of candidiasis opposes a major burden on women attenuating quality of life considerably. Frequent complications of candida vaginitis are recurrent or even chronic forms. Despite this burden, the research effort to tackle fungal vaginitis is scarce leaving patients to dependent on a few, often inefficient therapies.
The Mast cell is an immune cell type well-studied in its contribution to asthma and allergies. Therefore, a large number of medications is available that offers the potential for drug repurposing to enhance available antifungal therapies. This new approach can now be taken, since Constantin Urban and his team in close collaboration with Gunnar Nilsson, a world-leading expert on mast cell biology at Karolinska Institute, have characterized the immune response that mast cells launch during encounter of C. albicans. Mast cells are extremely versatile sensors of microbial invaders which recruit other immune cells and modulate their activities meticulously over time in order to orchestrate the fight against C. albicans. The project was recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
“It is our duty to set appropriate research goals that can target and impact the emergence of fungal diseases. We hope our research can contribute to reduce the burden fungal infections impose on our society “- concludes Constantin Urban.

Original publication:
José Pedro Lopes, Marios Stylianou, Gunnar Nilsson, Constantin F. Urban Opportunistic pathogen Candida albicans elicits a temporal response in primary human mast cells
Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/srep12287

Constantin Urban, Associate Professor, Umeå Centre for Microbial research (UCMR) & Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at the Department of Clinical Microbiology, Umeå University
Phone: +46 90 7850806
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Gunnar Nilsson, MD, Professor, Department of Medicine, Solna, Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset / Karolinska Institutet,,
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