Fungal research centre of excellence opens at University of Aberdeen

The University of Aberdeen's new UK centre of excellence for fungal research has been officially opened.

The Medical Research Council Centre for Medical Mycology (MRC CMM) was set up in Aberdeen due to the expertise and ground-breaking research carried out by the University’s Aberdeen Fungal Group, a team of researchers considered among the best in the world in the field.

Fungi infect a quarter of the world’s populations and whilst most are non-life threatening, such as dandruff or thrush, they contribute to around 1.3 million deaths every year.

The majority of global deaths related to fungal infections happen in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

In this part of the world, fungal infections contribute to between 600,000 to one million deaths – more than malaria and around the same number of deaths as tuberculosis.

The rise in the prevalence of these lethal infections is attributed largely to HIV/AIDS and the increased use of modern medical techniques, such as treatment with immune suppressive medicines. 

The new centre was officially opened by Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council on 26 January as part of a two day event for invited specialists and stakeholders.

The researchers at the MRC CMM will spearhead innovative research and training to generate knowledge that will improve the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of fungal diseases.

It is the first MRC Centre dedicated to the field of medical mycology the first time that the University of Aberdeen has been awarded an MRC Centre status. There are only 22 MRC Centres in the UK.

Despite the major medical impact of these fungal infections, medical mycology is a historically underfunded area of research, representing only a small percentage of both the UK and US governments’ infectious disease budgets.

The new MRC Centre for Medical Mycology represents a joint £6.5m investment by both the MRC and the University of Aberdeen.

The official opening comes just a month after the University announced a new £600,000 research centre at the University of Cape Town (The AFGrica Unit), specifically for targeting the fungal infections which kill up to one million people a year in the continent.

The AFGrica Unit compliments an existing Wellcome Trust-funded Strategic Award (led by the Aberdeen Fungal Group), where PhD students from low and middle-income nations (including Africa) are trained in Aberdeen and other medical mycology Centres in the rest of the UK. Upon obtaining their degree, these students then return home with their new skills to help address critical fungal research and training needs in their own countries. This new centre builds upon the work carried out in the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award in Medical Mycology and Fungal Immunology awarded to Aberdeen that has a remit to stimulate pan-UK research and build capacity and specialist expertise both nationally and in low and middle income countries.

Professor Sir John Savill FMecSci FRS, Chief Executive of the MRC, added: "I was delighted to help open formally the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Aberdeen today. Fungal infections are common, increasingly difficult to treat because of growing resistance to antifungal medicines and are life-threatening in immunosuppressed patients. Through discovery science, training and the development with industry of new diagnostics and treatments, this ambitious partnership between the MRC, the researchers and the University of Aberdeen will improve the outlook for patients worldwide."

As well as enhancing the Aberdeen Fungal Group’s existing world-leading interdisciplinary research with the appointment of new researchers, the centre will also be responsible for training the next generation of experts in this field and ensuring the work carried out has real impact on the medical and pharmaceutical industry. Another area of focus will be raising the awareness of fungal diseases and the associated research in this field among the general public and the medical community through a variety of public engagement and outreach activities.

Director of the new centre, Professor Gordon Brown said: “We’re delighted that the new MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Aberdeen has been officially opened. This award will enable us to enhance our existing strengths to create a world-leading centre of excellence and compliments our other activities, including our new AFGrica Unit in conjunction with the University of Cape Town and Wellcome Trust-funded Strategic Award.

“Our vision is to facilitate innovative, interdisciplinary research and training that will significantly advance knowledge in this area and produce research that improves detection and prevention and delivers a real difference to the lives of those affected by fungal diseases.”