Map could point way to fungus vaccine

U of A researchers have made breakthrough use of 3-D technology to map the structure of a common but potentially deadly fungus.

By Brian Murphy on June 1, 2012

(Edmonton) University of Alberta researchers have made breakthrough use of 3-D magnetic resonance technology to map the structure of a common fungus that is potentially deadly for people with impaired immune function. The work could pave the way for development of an effective vaccine.

The researchers targeted Candida albicans, a pathogen that in its most virulent form has led to more than 70,000 bloodstream infections in North American hospital patients. Health officials estimate that the death rate from this bloodstream infection is 40 per cent.

Lead U of A researchers Margaret Johnson and David Bundle, as well as collaborators at the Alberta Glycomics Centre, used nuclear magnetic resonance for a three-dimensional examination of the fungus at an atomic scale that measures less than 100-millionth of a centimetre.

“The process is called molecular recognition,” said Johnson. “We examined carbohydrate and antibody molecules related to the fungus in order to determine what sort of vaccine can best combat candida.”

Johnson described the three-dimensional approach to vaccinology as giving researchers a clear picture of how a vaccine must physically fit against the surface of the fungus.

The researchers used their findings to design test vaccines that produced positive results in containing the fungus. “Our multi-pronged strategy allowed us to observe a new type of molecular recognition,” she said.

Johnson added that if the private sector chooses to complete development of a vaccine, it could be 10 years before the drug is available.

Johnson and Bundle were assisted by U of A researcher Jonathan Cartmell and colleagues at the National University of Ireland and University of Georgia. The research was published May 25 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.