LSU Health New Orleans professor awarded $1.8 million grant to target intra-abdominal infections

Mairi Noverr, PhD, Associate Professor of Prosthodontics at LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry's Center of Excellence in Oral Biology, has been awarded a $1.8 million grant by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The funding will support research to reduce the death rate from intra-abdominal infections caused by both fungal and bacterial pathogens. These types of polymicrobial infections are increasingly common among hospitalized patients, have a high death rate, and there has been little research in this area.

The fungal pathogen Candida albicans is the most common cause of invasive fungal infection and the third most common cause of hospital-acquired bloodstream infections in the US. Invasive fungal infections with C. albicans have devastatingly high death rates compared with bacterial infections. Intra-abdominal fungal infections (IAI), which often involve both fungal and bacterial species, result in a 50-75% mortality rate. Fungal involvement also leads to increased rates of relapse and more severe disease. The mechanisms associated with this exacerbated mortality are currently unknown.

Dr. Noverr's research team will work to characterize the mechanisms contributing to and promoting synergy between C. albicans and Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterial pathogen, in lethal intra-abdominal infections. The researchers also hope to identify points for targeted treatment to decrease the severity of the infection and improve survival.

The rate of death associated with intra-abdominal infections where both C. albicans and S. aureus are involved correlates with dramatic increases in early inflammation. Dr. Noverr's preliminary data also indicate that C. albicans leads to increased S. aureus toxin production. These results suggest that there is a synergistic action from both organisms causing a pathological inflammatory response both locally and systemically (sepsis).

"These studies also have the potential for a broader impact, as Candida albicans also exerts synergistic mortality during intraperitoneal infections with other intestinal pathogens," notes Dr. Noverr.

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