Our researcher Professor Julian Naglik has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award for his work to understand how fungi cause disease.

Investigator Awards enable independent researchers with a compelling research vision to tackle the most important questions in science. Professor Naglik’s £2 million award will allow his lab to expand their work on fungal toxins, with the aim of finding new treatments and vaccinations against these diseases.

Every year, around 1.5 million people die of fungal infections, but little is understood about how the pathogens infect and damage human cells. A key paper from Professor Naglik’s lab in 2016 described Candidalysin, the first peptide toxin to be identified in any human fungal pathogen. Candidalysin is produced by Candida albicans, which causes thrush. The team showed that candidalysin is critical for the ability of Candida albicans to cause damage to human cells.

The research from Professor Naglik’s lab has established an entirely new field of research into fungal toxin discovery, and this award will help them to expand this area of work by bringing expertise from a range of disciplines, such as molecular genetics, biophysics and immunology. The team is working to understand how candidalysin promotes disease, whether other disease-causing fungi also produce toxins, and how the human immune system protects itself from these dangerous infections. They hope this will lead to new treatments and vaccinations for fungal diseases.

Professor Naglik, Professor of Fungal Pathogenesis and Immunology in the Centre for Host-Microbiome Interactions, Faculty of Dental, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences at King’s College London, said of the Award, “This is a huge honour, and will allow us to really expand the work we have been doing to understand how toxins promote fungal diseases. Fungal infections are a major cause of mortality, but yet little is understood about how this occurs, so in the longer term there is potential for our work to have a huge impact for patients. The award will help us improve our knowledge and potentially identify new approaches to treat or vaccinate against fungal infections.”

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