Hull Awarded Hartwell Grant April 2015

April 07, 2015

Dr. Christina Hull is one of two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have received three-year Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Awards to support research into fungal disease and therapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Hull, associate professor of Biomolecular Chemistry, is funded to explore Cryptococcus, a fungus that causes brain infections in people with immune deficits due to cancer treatment, transplant or AIDS. Hull will focus on the spore — the transmissible phase of the fungus — with the goal of understanding how the spore transforms itself into a yeast cell, which can cause brain swelling, blindness and death.

Using high-speed technology at UW-Madison, Hull will screen for drugs that can either block that transformation or treat the yeast infection without unacceptable side effects. "There are not many antifungal drugs, and some of them are quite toxic, because humans and fungi are close relatives," she says. "If you could give a nontoxic spore-blocking drug to a transplant patient when they start taking drugs to suppress the immune system, that would stop the disease process even if they inhaled these spores."

Fungal diseases are a growing problem, Hull says. "Fungal spores are ubiquitous in soil and when we stir it up and inhale them, a whole range of infections can start. But if the inhaled spore cannot grow, it cannot cause disease, so learning to block that process could be key in the prevention of many fatal fungal diseases." The grant will also fund studies on the role that fungal spores play in allergic asthma. UW News Release.