Spotlight on… Professor Al Brown
Sun Tzu said “know your enemy”, so my team in the MRC Centre is studying Candida albicans and this fungus lives in side most of us without doing any of us much harm, most of the time. For example it lives in our gut but it can break out to cause really nasty mucosal infections such as oral thrush and vaginal thrush and in intensive care patients whose immune systems are severely impaired it can also break out to cause life-threatening and potentially fatal systemic infections ie infections of the bloodstream or the internal tissues. So, what we want to do is to understand exactly how the fungus adapts to these different tissues, these different niches inside us and for the fungus these niches represent different worlds where if the fungus is to grow and survive and adapt then it must counter stresses that our bodies impose on the fungus. So, for example, oxidative stress; changes in acidity; changes in salt concentration and if the fungus is to survive in these niches it must also adapt to or tune its metabolism to the different nutrients that are available in these niches for example sugars, or lipids, or amino acids Now, it turns out that Candida albicans is very very good at this adaptation and this is one of the reasons why it’s so good at causing infection. So, my team in the MRC Centre along with other groups worldwide is trying to understand exactly how the fungus adapts to these different stresses and to these different nutrients and the extent to which these adaptive processes contribute to infection. In fact, recently we found that these adaptive processes don’t just tune the physiological fitness of the fungus inside us, its ability to resist these stresses, but it also changes the surface of the Candida, the outer coat of the Candida and this helps Candida to evade our immune defenses. This work is important. It’s important because the more we know about how the fungus, how Candida adapts the different stresses and nutrients inside us, the better able we’ll be to block those adaptive processes and to design smart therapies that prevent Candida infections. So, our aim is to know our enemy to provide a deep knowledge base that can then be used to design these smart therapies and to improve patient care.