This is an interview with a PhD student of the Disease Intervention Strategies projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.
Interview with Jacq de Neer, PhD student of In-host adaptation in chronic fungal airway infections and development of new antifungals at Utrecht University.
There’s a lot to do in fungi research. Jacq de Neer is studying ways to block an enzyme some pathogenic fungi use to break down nutrients, as a way to combat them.
‘I chose my PhD project for two reasons. Firstly, I had already encountered the research group during my Master’s. I knew it would be a pleasurable collaboration. Secondly, the subject of my research – fungi that become resistant to antibiotics – has not received a lot of attention. Just compare the amount of papers that are published on resistant bacteria. And I liked the fact that there is still a lot of work to do.
Most people know that bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, but a pathogenic fungus can do this too. The fungus I’m researching, Aspergillus Fumigatus, for example, is quite common. In addition, people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that can cause blockages in the lungs, are more sensitive to aspergillus. It would be a big problem if it became fully resistant.
Most common “antifungals” target some part of the fungus to make the fungus susceptible to the immune system. Together with colleagues in pharmaceutics, I’m researching a different strategy. This is one of the advantages of the NCOH: the possibilities for collaboration. We are not targeting the fungus directly, but an enzyme it uses to feed itself: trehalase. The pharmacology group can create proteins that fit right onto this enzyme and block it. This should stop the fungus from being able to break down some of its nutrients.
Even though I started work on this project for other reasons, it’s exciting and fulfilling to think about what our results could mean in practice. This is why I mention cystic fibrosis specifically– this research could mean a lot for this vulnerable group of people.’