(SAN ANTONIO, July 23, 2018) -- Chiung-Yu Hung, assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support her efforts to create a vaccine for fungal infections.
Unlike bacteria or viruses, there is currently no vaccine available for any type of fungal infection. Fungi are more complex organisms, containing far more components, which makes developing an effective vaccine to battle them much more difficult than efforts to combat a virus or bacterial infection.
Hung's work focuses on two types of the fungus Coccidioides, which exists in the soil of Southwest Texas, Southern Arizona, California and Northern Mexico. When the soil is disturbed by animals or humans, the fungal spores are released into the air, causing a respiratory infection called valley fever.
"Any human living in the endemic area could inhale the spores into their lungs, which causes an infection," Hung said. "The majority of people don't feel it, but some of them will develop flu-like symptoms and a small portion could even develop chronic pneumonia."
Without proper treatment, the fungus could also spread to the central nervous system, where it could cause meningitis, a potentially fatal condition. Hung's goal is to stop these infections before they occur by developing what could be the first anti-fungal vaccine.
"It's a testament to the advances in vaccines for viruses and bacteria that this effort is now possible," Hung said. "It's very exciting to be breaking new ground and working to create something that could prevent illness and even save lives."
As a member of the university's South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Hung is one of many researchers specializing in the study of vaccine development, biodefense, immunology and molecular microbiology. She is the author of several studies on Coccidioides and similar fungi.
"I welcome the HHS funding for University of Texas at San Antonio's (UTSA) South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, which focuses on fungal infections with the Coccidioides species," said Congressman Joaquin Castro. "San Antonio continues to lead in medicine development with groundbreaking research, and this grant will help boost wellness and quality of life for Americans across Texas and our nation."
Learn more about the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at UTSA.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biology.