GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Hear the word fungus, and mushrooms and mold might leap to mind. But the University of Florida is about to house the nation's first research repository for one species that has nothing to do with pizza toppings or marbling blue cheese: Aspergillus, which increasingly poses a major health threat to cancer patients and transplant recipients.
The National Institutes of Health has awarded $9 million over the next seven years to the effort. UF researchers are collaborating with colleagues at Duke University, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who will funnel patients' respiratory, urine and blood samples to UF. The repository will support research aimed at learning more about the fungus and efforts to develop more accurate tests to detect it in patients.
"Aspergillus is everywhere, particularly in the air we breathe; all of us breathe it in all the time," said principal investigator John Wingard, M.D., director of UF's blood and marrow transplant program and deputy director of the UF Shands Cancer Center. "On a windy day, especially in a dusty environment or every time some dirt gets moved around, lots of these organisms get aerosolized."
The number of people contracting Aspergillus infections jumped enormously in the 1990s, Wingard said, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible. Aspergillosis is the leading cause of death from infection in bone marrow transplant and leukemia patients, as well as among those who receive certain other solid organ transplants, he said. About 15 percent of all bone marrow transplant patients, for example, will develop an infection from Aspergillus; of those, about two-thirds die.
"We haven't had good treatments, we haven't had good prevention methods and, most importantly, we haven't had good diagnostic methods to identify which patients have these infections," Wingard said. "Since we often
Contact: Melanie Fridl Ross
University of Florida