Dr. Xiaorong Lin, a renowned Texas A&M University biologist and one of the ten recipients of one of the most prestigious national science awards, will utilize her Burroughs Wellcome Research fund prize of $500,000 to study fungal pathogens, according to a recent press release from the University. BioNews Texas originally covered Dr. Lin’s reception of the award back in late June.
Fungal agents are considered fairly deceptive. Besides causing mild infections like athlete’s foot to severe life threatening health issues like meningitis and encephalitis, fungus is also widely used in food and drug industry (to prepare bread, beer, pizza and wine).
Lin will be focusing her study on one of the deadliest forms of fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, one of the most lethal varieties responsible for over 625,000 deaths across the world (as suggested by the data collected by Center for Disease Control). Lin used the “The Art of War” philosophy by the great ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu to explain her agenda and strategy to study this fungal agent. She said:
“If you want to win the battle, you have to know not only yourself, but also the enemy.”
The details of the research:
Xiaorong Lin is currently serving as an assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Biology. Her research team will conduct an in-depth study to learn the basic structure and behavior of Cryptococcus neoformans along with other fungal agents (especially Aspergillus fumigates) in order to devise functional and practical treatment strategies and pharmacological agents for the treatment of infection. Lin explained:
“Even those superficial infections on the skin are hard to cure. Now imagine if the fungus is growing inside a human body. The problem is, we don’t have good drugs to target fungal infections. You want a drug that’s going to kill those pathogens specifically but isn’t toxic to the host cells. That’s one of the areas we are working on.”
Fungal agents are much harder to treat and most anti- fungals are associated with a high risk of potential side effects in the host body. This is primarily due to the fact that the fungal cellular structures closely resemble human cells making it critical to study fungal agents in greater detail to discover a more isolated drug target that can protect host cells at the same time.
Lin is among the 3 recipients of National award from the state of Texas. She commented:
“I believe that, in general, infectious diseases are one of the most important things we need to study as a human race, because along with nuclear war, they pose the greatest threat to our existence. Fungal infections are just one type of infectious disease, but they are understudied, and the research is under-funded.”
Lin has already started working on the project and her laboratory has been successful in identifying adhesion proteins that help in the bonding process. Lin called it “an important drive” since adhesion proteins can help in the development of vaccines. She is currently also working at exploring the chances to formulate a vaccine to prevent the neoformans infection.
About Xiaorong Lin:
Lin completed her undergraduate and earned masters in Chemical Engineering before persuading Fungal Biology. She completed her PhD in 2003 from University of Georgia and finished her post- doctoral research at Duke University Medical Center prior to joining Texas A&M and beginning her research on fungal pathogens.