Researchers developing ‘Trojan horse' to combat oral fungus

October 22, 2015

The Trojan horse ploy worked for the Greeks, and now it’s working for researchers, too. A team from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine is employing the age-old strategy to combat a common oral fungus – and it appears they will win the battle.

The Trojan horse ploy worked for the Greeks, and now it’s working for researchers, too. A team from the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine is employing the age-old strategy to combat a common oral fungus – and it appears they will win the battle. 

Oral thrush, also known as candidiasis, occurs when the fungus Candida albicans builds up in the lining of a person’s mouth. The fungus causes white lesions on the tongue and cheeks, and can sometimes spread to the tonsils, gums or back of the throat.

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Although it is a normally harmless fungus that exists in many people’s mouths, oral thrush can be problematic for patients with compromised immune systems, such as people with AIDS, or those using antibiotics or undergoing chemotherapy. People who wear dentures or orthodontic appliances are also at increased risk, as the fungus is adept at binding to plastic surfaces.

“Many people who wear dentures, use inhalers, or have been treated with antibiotics develop oral fungal infections, and this infection is very resistant to treatment with most available drugs,” said study leader Mira Edgerton, a research professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Oral Biology, in a recent press release.

Medications for oral thrush do exist, but the medicine is generally very bitter, so many patients do not follow the prescribed treatment in its entirety. This is problematic, as it allows the fungus to reoccur since it was never completely eradicated. The University at Buffalo researchers will evaluate the efficacy of using sugars and proteins that exist naturally in saliva with the hopes of developing an effective – and better-tasting – treatment for the fungus.

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In previous studies, Edgerton found that glucosamine could make fungi more receptive to outside compounds. When combined with histatin, an antifungal protein found in saliva, researchers found that the glucosamine made it easier for the antifungal protein to enter the fungus. By additionally binding the protein to spermidine, a polyamine compound found in ribosomes, the researchers will create a bio-peptide to further enable entry, essentially disguising the fungus-fighting protein inside a “Trojan horse.”

The team will study the effectiveness of the bio-peptide in mice, and will also evaluate a glucosamine mouthwash to see if it further primes the fungus to allow entry by the bio-peptide. According to a University at Buffalo release, “Edgerton hopes to find optimal dosage and treatment procedure to fight the infection in humans.”