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Dr. Jarrod Fortwendel, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently awarded a two-year research grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The grant award totals $263,960.
Dr. Fortwendel said his research focuses on deciphering pathogenic mechanisms of the fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus. A. fumigatus is the cause of invasive pulmonary aspergillosis, an infection of the lungs. Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis is the most serious type of aspergillosis infection and is difficult to cure.
“Previous work in our laboratory has shown a protein, called RasA, to be a major regulator of the fungus’ invasive growth and virulence,” Dr. Fortwendel said. “The objective of our proposed studies is to identify portions of the RasA protein that are important for its sub-cellular localization and function during invasive growth.”
Dr. Fortwendel said RasA activity is especially important for formation of the long tubular structures, known as hyphae, developed by fungi to invade the human body.
“Through these studies, we will begin to understand how we might target RasA to inhibit its function,” he said. “Inhibiting RasA function should, in turn, inhibit invasive growth and halt the progression of disease.”
Dr. Fortwendel said the research will not only impact A. fumigatus infections, but may also apply to all medically important fungi.
“We are focusing on aspects of Ras protein function that might be shared by all fungi associated with invasive infections in immunocompromised patients.” “Discovering new ways to inhibit fungal growth is essential to continue combating serious invasive infections,” Dr. Fortwendel added.
“Our studies bring a new basic science focus, fungal pathogenesis, to USA. We believe our work will offer new opportunities for collaborations and enhance the research environment within the College of Medicine.”
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