A Kansas State University microbiologist has found a breakthrough herbal medicine treatment for a common human fungal pathogen that lives in almost 80 percent of people.
Govindsamy Vediyappan, assistant professor of biology, noticed that diabetic people in developing countries use a medicinal herb called Gymnema slyvestre to help control sugar levels. He decided to study the microbiological use of Gymnema slyvestre — a tropical vine plant found in India, China and Australia — to see if it could treat a common human fungal pathogen called Candida albicans.
The investigation was successful on two levels: Vediyappan’s research team found the medicinal compound is both nontoxic and blocks the virulence properties of the fungus so that it is more treatable. The results are important for human health, biomedical applications and potential drug development.
“We have shown that this compound is safe to use because it doesn’t hurt our body cells, yet it blocks the virulence of this fungus under in vitro conditions,” Vediyappan said. “Taking the medicine could potentially help patients control the invasive growth of the fungus and also help bring their sugar levels down.”
Candida albicans is one of the major fungal pathogens in humans because it lives in oral and intestinal areas as a normal flora, Vediyappan said. But the fungus can overgrow and can cause oral, intestinal and genital infections. The mortality rates for those with candidemia and invasive candidiasis has been reported to be quite high, and it is a concern among cancer patients — especially patients with neck or oral cancer — HIV patients, organ transplant patients and other people with compromised immune systems.
The fungus can grow in two forms: a treatable yeast and a difficult-to-treat hyphal form. Once the fungus transforms from a yeast to a hyphal growth it becomes difficult to treat because the hyphal growth has long filament-like structures that can spread into various organs. Vediyappan’s study aimed to block the hyphal growth form.
“Once it gets into the tissue, it spreads like roots and is difficult to contain by our immune system,” Vediyappan said.