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UMaine Researcher Wins $500K Grant to Study Pathogen
06/04/2014 01:36 PM ET  

Robert Wheeler will use the grant from the Borroughts Wellcome fund to study how a common fungus can turn deadly in people with immune diseases.

A researcher at the University of Maine will receive $500,000 to study how a common pathogen can turn into a killer disease.

"The pathogen that we study, candida albicans, is the fourth most common bloodstream disease in hospitalized patients," says researcher Robert Wheeler.

But how this common fungus transforms from a harmless yeast living in the GI tract of a healthy person to a potential killer for people with immune disease isn't fully understood, Wheeler says. His research will use zebrafish to model and observe how the fungus behaves in tissue.

Currently, says Wheeler, one in three patients with impaired immune systems who contract this fungal infection while in the hospital will die from it.

"And a combination of better diagnosis and better drug treatment regimes could make a really big impact in the lethality associated with fungal infection," he says.

Wheeler says the five-year, $500,000 research fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund is new high point in his career, as well a major boost for microbiology at UMaine. Wheeler says the research could be very significant for recipients of organ transplants, as well as for patients battling leukemia and AIDS.

This story was reported and written by Jennifer Mitchell.


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