Our group is interested in the basic processes of infections with pathogenic fungi.
Fungi are found everywhere and can lead to severe infections, but luckily the human innate immune system is usually very effective in eradicating them. However, opportunistic fungi can lead to life-threatening infections that are difficult to treat in patients with a compromised immune system. Newly emerging fungal infections and increasing antifungal resistance are reported worldwide, so it is important to find new treatment options.
To learn how to combat fungi, Constantin Urban is studying how fungal infections are rapidly cleared in healthy individuals. This is mediated by the most abundant type of white blood cells, neutrophils. These cells can engulf fungi by phagocytosis and kill the fungi internally via oxidative burst. However, neutrophils can also eradicate fungi externally via the release of vesicles and neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). NETs are expelled chromatin fibers originating from the neutrophil, that are decorated with antimicrobial proteins. These structures have fascinated Constantin for a long time. Not only because they are essential to restrict fungal infections, but also because they have an important role in inflammation. Inflammation is as a double-edged sword, says Constantin, it can help us to survive, but it can also kill us.
Constantin started to investigate the potential pathological role of NETs during severe COVID-19, after reports that large amounts of neutrophils were found in the lungs of severely ill patients. In collaboration with Mattias Forsell, Anna Överby and Johan Normark, the research team of Constantin is investigating whether the quantification of NET components in the blood plasma of severely ill COVID-19 patients can serve as a prognostic marker.
For future studies, Constantin is looking for a PhD student to complement his research team currently consisting of a bachelor and a master student, a postdoc and two PhD students: one full-time preclinical and one part-time resident physician in hematology. “You can survive for up to 20 years without B-cells, but only a couple of months without neutrophils. Come to our lab and study these fascinating cells. In addition, if you want to find a new niche: research on fungal infections is underrepresented in the Nordic countries.”