Natural antibodies to detect and prevent fungal infection

Natural antibodies to detect and prevent fungal infection

Lars Erwig & Neil Gow

Fungal diseases are common and frequently life-threatening, yet systematic basic and clinical research on fungi has lagged behind that of other classes of microbial pathogens. Ten to 20% of all humans have skin infections and over two million people worldwide succumb to fatal fungal infections each year.

We have made significant progress over the last three years in developing a novel technology that has the potential of generating much needed novel diagnostics that can be used at the hospital bedside or surgery (point-of-care diagnostics) to detect human fungal pathogens. Such diagnostics are urgently needed since delays in administrating appropriate antifungal chemotherapy contributes markedly to increasingly poor prognosis and escalating death rates in vulnerable patients.

Our technology involves generating highly specific antibodies from individual B cells, which are the human antibody factory cells. This technology was developed by our industrial collaborators Pfizer and we are the first group to prove that this concept can be applied in an infectious disease setting. We have already raised antibodies to both specific cloned proteins and to whole cells of the major human pathogenic fungus Candida albicans.

We are seeking to extend our success to generate a suite of antibodies to three other major fungal pathogens of humans - Aspergillus fumigatus and Cryptococcus neoformans and Pneumocystsis jirovecii. By doing this we can generate a rapid and highly specific diagnostic test, based on a pregnancy strip-like format (termed a lateral flow device) that has the potential to detect all four of the major fungal killers in a single test.

This would be revolutionary in both advancing the technological sophistication of point-of-care fungal diagnostics, and by creating a diagnostic with much broader species coverage than exists currently. In addition, we will explore the utility of our single-B-cell antibodies to deliver toxic payloads that could kill the fungus and act as a therapeutic antibody.