McClean building new tools for targeting fungal infections

// Biomedical Engineering

Tags: 2019, Faculty, News

Photo of Megan McClean

Megan McClean and her collaborators will focus on Candida albicans, a fungal yeast that’s a common cause of infections such as urinary tract infections and thrush but can also produce deadly ailments.

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Megan McClean, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has landed a $426,679 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop tools that could help researchers better target fungal infections with drugs.

Fungal cells bear similarities in cellular structure to their human counterparts, which can make them difficult to selectively target. Through the two-year project, McClean and her collaborators will focus on Candida albicans, a fungal yeast that’s a common cause of infections such as urinary tract infections and thrush but can also produce deadly ailments.

McClean’s lab will build optogenetic tools, which use light to control gene expression and protein localization. Her group will also create an in vitro test for monitoring the yeast’s formation as biofilms—collections of cells that grow on a surface—and then dispersal and spread while altering regulators of those processes through optogenetics.

The in vitro test will build upon the work of several student teams in the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s design program over the past three years.

By identifying the genetic regulators of those biofilm mechanisms, the researchers hope to pinpoint potential targets for drug treatments.

David Andes, a professor and chief of the Division of Infectious Disease in the Department of Medicine at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, is a co-principal investigator on the grant, while Aaron Hernday, an assistant professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California Merced, is also part of the effort.

Author: Tom Ziemer