Minh-Hong Nguyen, MD, has been awarded funding in the amount of $100,000 as a recipient of the Transformative Science Award granted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Medicine for her proposal to expand the capabilities of the Pitt-UPMC Center for Fungal Genomics.

Mucormycosis is a life-threatening fungal infection caused by Mucorales species that is associated with mortality rates exceeding 50%. Reports of nosocomial outbreaks of mucormycosis are increasing, many of which are attributed to contaminated medical supplies or environmental exposures. Between 2015 and 2016, four solid organ transplant recipients at UPMC succumbed to hospital-acquired mucormycosis.

During extensive environmental surveillance by UPMC Infection Control and Prevention, Mucorales were consistently recovered from hospital linens immediately upon their delivery to UPMC from a commercial linen laundry. Environmental surveillance within UPMC rarely recovered Mucorales. Despite initial remediation efforts at the laundry agency, newly delivered linens remained heavily contaminated with Mucorales. Working on a shoestring budget, Dr. Nguyen and her team pieced together sufficient genetic data to establish that the fatal outbreak arose from contaminated linen from the laundry agency. A several million dollar court settlement awarded damages to UPMC, and directed the laundry agency to pay personal settlements to infected patients’ families.

Whole genome sequencing (WGS) of Mucorales and other fungi is in its infancy, but it is poised to alter our understanding of fungal biology and epidemiology. Moreover, it is now an unprecedented time for emergence of new fungal pathogens for which genomic data are lacking such as Candida auris. Incomplete analyses of WGS data leads to spurious conclusions about genome content, strain relatedness, and nosocomial outbreaks of fungal infections. To advance, the field urgently needs higher quality WGS data from clinical and environmental fungal strains, accurate chromosome-resolved assemblies, and precise definitions of genus- and species-level differences and identities. Dr. Nguyen and her team will use the resources from this departmental Transformative Science Award to build biorepositories, databases, and analytic tools that are necessary tools for advancing the nascent field of fungal genomic epidemiology.

Dr. Nguyen is a national leader in fungal genomic epidemiology. We are privileged to have her in the ID Division as a role model for transformative bench-to-bedside science.

Congratulations Hong!