$2.7M grant bolsters fight against infection

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Aspergillus mold spores are continuously inhaled, which live both indoors and outdoors, without becoming ill. But for people with a weakened immune system, a fungal infection caused by the spores could be fatal.

The deadly fungus will soon face a new weapon in the researcher’s arsenal — a computer algorithm that could help scientists better understand on the molecular level the labyrinthine interaction of the fungus with a living host.

A UF Health researcher and his collaborators have been awarded a $2.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop a computer model that could lead to new therapies to treat invasive Aspergillosis, a fungal disease caused by Aspergillus.

“Aspergillosis is common, and it’s becoming more and more common,” said Borna Mehrad, M.D., a professor and chief of the division of pulmonary, critical care & sleep medicine in the UF College of Medicine. “So, the infection is a tremendous problem.”

Susceptible patients include stem cell or organ transplant recipients, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and those on immunosuppressive drugs such as steroids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not tally the number of people afflicted with Aspergillosis because it is a non-reportable disease, but varying estimates peg mortality at 30 to 60 percent, even with tailored antibiotic treatments.

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