Innate immunity to fungi

Published on February 29, 2024   32 min

Other Talks in the Series: The Immune System - Key Concepts and Questions

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Hello. My name is Gordon Brown. I'm based at the MRC Center for Medical Mycology at the University of Exeter. Today, I'm going to talk to you about innate antifungal immunity.
I'd like to start by highlighting the huge burden of fungal infections that we face going forward. As you can see here, fungal infections kill about 1 1/2 million people every year. That's on the same magnitude as the number of people that die from tuberculosis, and 3,000 more are killed by malaria. Part of the reason why fungal infections are so neglected is due to the historic reason, fungal infections have only really dramatically increased over the last few decades, but also due to a lack of capacity in that field. This is evident by looking at the funding levels for research. As you can see of the slide, roughly 2-2 1/2% of infectious disease research budgets are targeted towards fungal infections, which doesn't really reflect the huge burden that these diseases place on human morbidity and mortality. In order to combat these infections, we have three major issues we need to be able to challenge. We need better diagnostics. One of the reasons why fungal infections have such high mortality rates is that by the time clinicians diagnose these infections, it's too late. We also need better drugs. Fungi, of course, are eukaryotic organisms and we need better drugs. But it's difficult to do so because they are eukaryotic organisms. Unfortunately, we only have a few classes of antifungal drugs, and very scarily, antifungal drug resistance is rising. The final major issue to be tackled is understanding the underlying immunology of the disease. Most of the deaths that are caused by these infections occur in individuals whose immune system is compromised. This is the reason why the last few decades has been such a huge increase in the number of people infected with fungal diseases. This is because of the advent of modern medical interventions, catheterization, immunosuppression for cancer, for example, as well as HIV AIDS that led to a really large global population of individuals who are highly susceptible to fungal infection.