The University of Otago's Dr Brian Monk shows the structure of a cell membrane protein, which is a target for anti-fungal drugs. Photo by Craig Baxter.
A University of Otago research breakthrough could lead to the
creation of new ''life-saving'' anti-fungal drugs.
The Sir John Walsh Research Institute research, led by Dr
Brian Monk, and working with colleagues at the University of
California San Francisco, discovered the structure of a key
cell membrane protein, which allows fungus to grow.
Knowing the structure of the protein, which was also involved
in growing resistance to anti-fungal drugs worldwide, could
result in ''better targeted'' drugs that ''hopefully give the
organism no chance of surviving''.
This was significant as 1.4 million people died annually due
to fungal infections made worse by co-infections with
tuberculosis and Aids or by medically induced immune
Fungal infections such as thrush also affected premature
babies, the elderly, females of reproductive age, individuals
with dry mouth and terminal cancer patients, Dr Monk said.
''This is a huge area that really needs to be worked on,
because the drugs we have are not particularly effective.
''If you get a systemic fungal infection, that's one that
spreads throughout your body and gets to your organs, your
chances of surviving it are around about 50% or 60%.''
Having drugs that more effectively targeted the fungal
protein molecule also meant it could take longer for
organisms to develop resistance.
Dr Monk's research team was now searching for drugs to take
advantage of the discovery.
''What we would like to have is really cheap simple drugs
that will have a long life.
''That is rather than having resistance occur after a few
years, maybe they might last 50 or 100 years,'' he said.
Dr Monk said his research team's discovery paralleled a
recent achievement by Prof Greg Cook's team in Otago's
department of microbiology and immunology.
Prof Cook and his colleagues published the structure of a
membrane protein essential for bacteria to generate energy, a
finding which opened the way to developing new classes of
The importance of both discoveries was highlighted by the
fact less than 0.5% of protein structures so far determined
worldwide were for membrane proteins.