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Fiocruz-Pasteur-Birmingham international unit will investigate fungal diseases


Ana Paula Blower (Fiocruz News Agency)


With a long history of cooperation, and a bilateral platform on immunology being developed in Fiocruz-Ceará another step was taken to strengthen the partnership between Fiocruz and the Institut Pasteur, two members of the Pasteur Network. The Carlos Chagas Institute (ICC/ Fiocruz Paraná) will house an International Research Unit of the Institut Pasteur. The unit was approved through a competitive process opened by the French institute in 2021 and had the contract signed in April of this year. For the next five years, the unit will investigate the mechanisms through which fungi cause damage to the human host. The University of Birmingham, in England, is also part of the unit, joining efforts to advance the theme.

The Carlos Chagas Institute (ICC/ Fiocruz Paraná) will house an International Research Unit of the Institut Pasteur (image: Carlos Chagas Institute/Fiocruz)

With its work, the International Unit, called Extracellular Vesicles of Fungi, aims to produce scientific results that bring benefits to people affected by fungal diseases. In addition, the research unit will promote scientific exchange and training of Fiocruz collaborators in partner institutions.

The unit's Brazilian coordinator and ICC/Fiocruz researcher, Marcio Rodrigues, points out that the Institut Pasteur is one of the world's leading research institutions and that it has a very large international reach. “The Institut Pasteur’s international research units are temporary structures that serve to bring together competencies from groups from different parts of the world to promote the advancement of a given area. It is, therefore, an honor to join them in creating this international unit”, says Rodrigues.

The Extracellular Vesicles of Fungi Unit aims to produce scientific results that bring benefits to people affected by fungal diseases (image: Pasteur Institute)

The proposal for the creation of the unit was based on a discovery by Brazilian researchers. Fifteen years ago, the group first described the existence of extracellular vesicles in fungi, which were later characterized as structures that these pathogens use as vehicles to cause damage to their hosts. At the moment, explains Rodrigues, studies developed by French and English partners in collaboration with Brazilian groups indicate that these vesicles are seen as vaccine candidates, as well as mediators of resistance to antifungal drugs.

“They are very important structures for the infectious process. Our main study model is the Cryptococcus fungus, which causes very lethal brain infections. But these vesicles appear to be produced by all fungi studied so far. This is a general and essential characteristic for the biology of fungi”, explains the researcher. 

Since 2018, Fiocruz and Pasteur have collaborated on the subject, as Marcio Rodrigues was one of the winners of the Fiocruz-Pasteur-USP Tripartite Call in 2017. Now, with the participation of the University of Birmingham, the objective is to unite efforts based on a question that began in Brazil, emphasizes Rodrigues, based on the exchange of researchers and knowledge.

Ongoing scientific projects

Over the next five years - the time foreseen for the duration of the unit - a joint team will be formed, which will have access to all the existing infrastructure in the institutions involved, from the use of equipment to the exchange of researchers and collaborators.

Scientific projects linked to the unit have been underway since April. In June, a meeting will be held at the Institut Pasteur, in Paris, between Pasteur and Fiocruz scientists. In November, a new meeting will be held, this time at the headquarters of the University of Birmingham, in England. The unit includes the teams led by Marcio Rodrigues (Fiocruz-PR), Guilhem Janbon (Institut Pasteur, Paris), and Robin May (University of Birmingham).

Partnership with the Institut Pasteur and the Pasteur Network

Fiocruz and the Institut Pasteur have a lasting and strategic cooperation relationship, which dates back to the early years of the French institute, created in 1888: Oswaldo Cruz was the first Brazilian to study there. The relationship has been built over the last few decades, with continued interest from both institutions. Currently, one of the highlights of this partnership is Fiocruz's participation, since 2009, in the Pasteur Network, a vast scientific community with more than 30 members in over 20 countries, contributing together to global health. The Foundation became an official member of the network in 2015.

About the Pasteur Network

The Pasteur Network is a vast human and scientific community with more than 30 members in over 20 countries contributing together to global health. Located in the heart of endemic areas, the Network has privileged access to a large number of pathogens that it monitors and studies on all five continents. This exceptional diversity makes the Pasteur Network a unique global actor in public health, science, innovation, and education, especially in the fight against infectious diseases.

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