Case Study

Dr Albert Bolhuis

Adherence of pathogenic microbes to surfaces, Albert Bolhuis, PhD.

Research in the Bolhuis lab focuses on the adherence of bacteria and fungi to surfaces. This area is of great significance for public health because of its role in many infectious diseases, such as wound and other skin infections, endocarditis, and lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. One important aim of the group is to develop pharmaceutical strategies that lead to better treatment of these conditions. This work is multidisciplinary and is in collaboration with colleagues in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology (University of Bath) and elsewhere.

One group of pathogens that we work on are dermatophytes, which are fungi that can infect skin, nails and hair. They cause infections that are very common and frequently recurring, with 20-25% of the world’s population suffering from conditions such as athlete’s foot, ringworm or other “tinea” infections. These conditions are usually not very serious but can be unpleasant and difficult to treat. However, in diabetics, it contributes to the severity of the diabetic foot and, in immunocompromised patients, these fungal infections can be more severe and life-threatening.

To investigate dermatophytosis, we have developed an infection model using porcine skin, which is low cost and ethically neutral. In our model, the fungi only grow in the presence of skin, and adherence of fungal spores to the skin is time-dependent. Very little is known about how the fungal spores interact with skin, but electron microscopy shows the production of fibril-like material that links conidia to each other and the skin. These fibrils develop within hours after infection and can completely embed the fungal spores in the skin within 24 hours. Longer incubation (48 hours) leads to the skin becoming completely covered in fungal material. The infection model that we have developed is now used to investigate the infection process in more detail, and to develop and test strategies to prevent and treat fungal infections. We have now also developed a nail infection model, and based on our work, we were recently awarded an EPSRC grant, together with researchers at King’s College London, to develop novel treatments for fungal nail infections.