Researchers at the University of Glasgow are investigating how fungi use biofilms to attach themselves to various surfaces – such as prosthetics or other devices worn in or on the body.

The £157,000, three-year project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and a fellowship from Gilead Sciences and is being led by Professor Gordon Ramage, a specialist in fungal biofilms at the Dental School.

The study is part of a larger consortium project led by the University of Aberdeen which is administering a recently-awarded £5.1m Wellcome Trust strategic award to combat invasive fungal infections globally. Prof Ramage is focusing his efforts on translational research as part of the larger project.

Biofilms are thin layers of fungi that can form over things like pacemakers, catheters, contact lenses and dentures and can become a problem if these devices are not properly sanitised and infect the body. Prof Ramage said: "We want to understand how some of these organisms stick to surfaces better than others because 65% of all clinical infections are biofilm-related."

The team has collected all the yeast isolates in candidemia – a fungal infection of the blood. They are examining the ability of the various isolates to stick to surfaces to correlate the biological properties of the different isolates with different clinical outcomes, including how best to manage these 'hard-to-treat' infections.

Prof Ramage said: "Candidemia is seen as a disease of diseased people and when growing within biofilms can be up to 1,000 times more difficult to treat with standard antimicrobials. It is also difficult to detect and mortality rates are unacceptably high in intensive care units – up to 50%.

"We want to study the clinical outcomes of patients with candidemia and hope that our research will also help improve our diagnostic abilities."

The project is a joint effort between Glasgow, Dr Brian Jones of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Dr Mary Hanson of NHS Lothian, and Professor Craig Williams of the University of the West of Scotland.

A recent article from members of the consortium argues that fungal infections are realistically one the World Health Organisation's top 10 killers, but there is no dedicated programme for these infections and significantly less funding than other areas. Recent figures show that only £48.4 million was spent on fungal infection research in the UK, making up only 1.9% of all infection research, the majority of it focussed on preclinical studies.