€10m. grant given to Israeli researchers studying fungal infections

Fungal infections cause at least 1.6 million deaths per year.

Prof. Judith Berman, head of the Fungal Drug Response lab at Shmunis School of Biomedical and Cancer Research. (photo credit: COURTESY TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Prof. Judith Berman, head of the Fungal Drug Response lab at Shmunis School of Biomedical and Cancer Research.
(photo credit: COURTESY TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
A €10 million grant was awarded to researchers from Tel Aviv University and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin by the scientific body of the European Commission, the European Research Council (ERC). The grant was awarded to researchers who are studying the efficacy of drugs used to treat fungal infections by examining their biological mechanisms.
Fungal infections cause at least 1.6 million deaths per year, according to researchers from TAU. Most fungal infections are not life-threatening, but invasive fungal infections in the bloodstream or internal organs can be difficult to treat and have a mortality level as high as 50%.
There are currently only three main classes of antifungal drugs, and the similarity of fungal and human cells makes it challenging to develop new medicines that will not cause side effects in patients.
The research will focus on transient metabolic responses in fungal drug responses.
"The situation in fungal pathogens is fundamentally different from the situation with drug-resistant bacteria," said Prof. Judith Berman, who is head of the Fungal Drug Response lab at TAU's Shmunis School of Biomedical and Cancer Research, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and one of the research group's leaders.
"Resistance in fungal pathogens is not as common and does not spread as rapidly as bacterial resistance. Rather, we find that fungal pathogens rapidly give rise to a subset of cells that continue growing slowly when they encounter the anti-fungal drug. This property is transient, and cells can switch back and forth between the ‘tolerant’ and ‘non-tolerant’ state – it is not caused by the types of mutations that provide resistance as in bacterial infections. Rather, it is a ‘phenotypic process’ and we need to understand it in order to treat it most effectively.” Berman went on to explain.

Researchers
think that anti-fungal tolerance might be caused by metabolism.
"We observed that cells of different types that grow together do so by exchanging metabolites and cooperating in metabolism," said Prof. Markus Ralser, director of Charité’s Institute of Biochemistry.
"This metabolic cooperation makes cells heterogeneous. We also have evidence that metabolic heterogeneity might explain key aspects of drug tolerance mechanisms," Ralser went on to explain.
The studies will include collaboration with other researchers from all over the world.