A collaborative research project that could significantly improve our understanding of the role of Candida albicans in gum and jaw disease has been awarded $2 million by the US National Institutes for Health (NIH).
Howard Jenkinson, Professor of Oral Microbiology and Head of Research at the University of Bristol’s School of Oral and Dental Sciences, has been funded by the NIH since 2006 for research into Candida albicans – the species of Candida that causes most fungal infections.
This five-year programme renewal is to develop further research into yeast infections and better ways to control them.
The most common fungal infections in humans are caused by Candida.
More generally known as yeast infections, these conditions are uncomfortable for a healthy person, but deadly for someone whose immune system is weak or who is vulnerable after surgery.
Over 50% of the population have suffered from yeast infections at one time or another and this is one reason why Candida generate considerable interest from a public health perspective.
Professor Jenkinson said: ‘Candida albicans are a major concern in public health. They are quite resilient to antimicrobial agents and some of the newer drugs are not yet freely available. Once Candida are growing in the body, they are very difficult to clear. Therefore, one of our research goals is to find new ways of blocking the ability of Candida to colonise humans.’
Candida yeasts can live quietly inside the human body for many years. But they have the potential to suddenly cause disease, often in response to antibiotic treatment, hormonal changes, or reduced immunity.
Candida become troublesome when they grow filaments known as hyphae that penetrate the body tissues. They cause painful conditions such as ‘sore mouth’ in denture users, but more serious problems if the fungi get into the blood stream and infect the organs. This condition, known as candidaemia, may be fatal.
Professor Jenkinson’s work has observed that Candida albicans interact very closely with several different types of bacteria in the human body. These help Candida colonise and stimulate them to produce hyphae.
Professor Jenkinson added: ‘We have developed models to study microbes growing together under conditions that mimic those in the body. We do this by flowing body fluids like saliva through small incubation chambers in which Candida and bacteria are growing together. One of our new ventures is to better understand the role of Candida albicans in periodontal (gum and jaw) disease. There is evidence that Candida may be involved together with bacteria in dissolving away bone, causing teeth to fall out.’
While the main focus of this work is oral disease, the research findings will apply to Candida infections in other parts of the body.
Professor Jenkinson’s collaborators include Dr Rich Lamont, University of Louisville; Dr Aras Kadioglu, University of Liverpool; Dr Mark Ramsdale, University of Exeter; Dr Mark Jepson, Biochemistry and Dr Michele Barbour, School of Oral and Dental Sciences, University of Bristol.