Pilar Manrique
Alayna Caffrey

Speaker: Alayna Caffrey, doctoral student, 
Department of Microbiology & Immunology
Montana State University

Date: Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Time: 4:10 PM
Place: Byker Auditorium, Chemistry & Biochemistry Building

Title: Aspergillus fumigatus Strain-Specific Virulence and Inflammation


Aspergillus fumigatus is a ubiquitous environmental mold, and even though most individuals are regularly exposed to fungal spores, clinical invasive disease is a rare manifestation. However, in the growing population of individuals with weakened immune systems, for example due to prolonged corticosteroid treatment or chemotherapeutic interventions, A. fumigatus exposure can cause severe, invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA). Overall, invasive fungal infections are estimated to kill at least 1.5 million people annually, with IPA being the most common and deadly invasive respiratory fungal infection. It is critical to better understand the host-pathogen interactions after A. fumigatus exposure in order to develop novel treatment options which harness the power of the host’s immune response. Researchers have recently found that different environmental and clinical strains of A. fumigatus lead to different inflammatory profiles as well as different disease pathology. Strains that are able to germinate more readily within the lung environment are more virulent, and lead to enhanced lung damage, vascular leakage and inflammation. These finding will allow researchers to better understand what fungal component(s) are important in virulence determination, which immune pathways are contributing to the different disease pathologies observed, as well as understand the mechanism through which a healthy immune system can resist A. fumigatus exposure on a daily basis.

About the speaker

Caffrey researches the early immune response against Aspergillus fumigatus, a common mold that can be found in soil or compost piles. The mold causes severe lung infections in people with weakened immune systems, perhaps compromised by leukemia, chemotherapy or organ transplants. The death rate from Aspergillus fumigatus ranges from 30 to 90 percent, depending on the population. To help lower that percentage and understand what goes wrong in weakened immune systems, Caffrey studies healthy immune systems to see how they respond to Aspergillus fumigatus. She has discovered that a molecule called IL-la is critical for recruiting white blood cells to an infection site.

She is the recipient of a 2015 Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowship.