Indian American professor from UCLA granted $8.4mn to study Valley Fever


A team led by an Indian American professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) will receive a multi-million-dollar grant to study ‘why some people suffer from a devastating fungal infection called Valley Fever’, while others suffer seemingly no impact from the disease.

Dr. Manish Butte of UCLA will lead a group receiving $8.4 million over five years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Butte is the E. Richard Stiehm Endowed Chair, professor and chief of the division of immunology, allergy and rheumatology in the department of pediatrics, and will lead a group of researchers from UCLA and UC San Diego.

The disease, which occurs when people breathe in microscopic spores of the fungus Coccidioides that are present in soil, was first identified in Argentina in the late 1800s.

Today, Valley fever is seen in a geographic swath that stretches from South America through Central America and Mexico and into the American Southwest. While people with symptoms usually recover on their own or with the help of antifungal medication, those who develop a severe, or “disseminated,” form of the disease can become severely ill and die.

“Everyone in the endemic areas is susceptible to this infection, but we have almost no ability to predict who will develop disseminated disease and lack an understanding of what part of their immune response fails to control the infection,” Professor Butte, the E. Richard Stiehm Professor of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is quoted saying in the press release.

The five-year grant will establish a Conccidioidomycosis Collaborative Research Center at which researchers from UCLA and UC San Diego led by Butte will investigate innate and adaptive immune responses to Valley fever, the genomic basis for heightened susceptibility to the disease and the mechanisms that allow the fungus to evade the body’s immune system, the press release detailed.

Two similar centers, at UC San Francisco and the University of Texas, San Antonio, will study how the disease attacks the body, and will work to develop therapeutics and vaccines.

The team led by Dr. Butte will study the intersection between virulent coccidioides that takes advantage of compromised immunity and the genetic risk factors that allow severe disease to infect and take hold.

This joint project arose between UCLA and UCSD because of the long-standing and collaborative relationship Dr. Butte has with his colleague, pediatric immunologist and division chief Dr. Hal Hoffman at UCSD.