Aberdeen University researchers have discovered that a potentially deadly fungus can change its appearance to hide itself in the body.
The team of experts found that Candida albicans, which can cause thrush, can not only predict an attack by the immune system but will even camouflage itself to hide from it.
Although harmless to most healthy individuals, the fungus can be deadly to patients with weakened immune systems.
It can also lead to serious fungal diseases such as candidiasis, which affects around 1,000 patients in the UK per year and can prove fatal in up to half of cases.
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and conducted by the University of Aberdeen’s Fungal Group in the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology.
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Candida albicans has evolved to alter its surface markings to avoid detection by the immune system.
Dr Delma Childers, research team member and lecturer in Medical Sciences at Aberdeen University, hailed the importance of their findings.
She said: “Candida albicans is not a concern in day-to-day life. However, it can be a serious problem for very vulnerable patient groups, so it’s important to understand how this fungus exploits conditions inside us to survive.
“Then we can look for new ways of combating this infection.
“These findings suggest that this fungus can anticipate imminent immune attack and react quickly to avoid detection.”
The study was published in Nature Communications and is the first to show in detail how this fungus evades the immune response, and could lead to new more effective ways to target fungal infections.