Scientists from St. Mary’s University joined peers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Johns Hopkins University to solve a mystery behind the fungus that causes yeast infections, diaper rash and oral thrush.

The group shed light on the protein superoxide dismutase 5 (SOD5), which allows a common fungal pathogen, Candida albicans, into the body.

The St. Mary’s scientists involved were Ahmad Galaleldeen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, and Jessica Waninger-Saroni, a senior Biology major and Biaggini Research Scholar.

The group was able to successfully solve the structure of SOD5 and determine its biophysical properties. A copper-only protein found in fungi, SOD5 is structurally distinct from human superoxide dismutases, and these differences can be exploited to develop compounds that target SOD5.

Galaleldeen noted that treatment of fungal infections have long been a matter of contention for scientists.

“We are trying to find effective ways of treating fungal infections, and if we are able to get to the point of a vaccination, it wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Galaleldeen said.

The research was published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Waninger-Saroni was selected by the National Science Foundation to present the group’s findings at the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting April 26-29 in San Diego.

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