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Zinc: a startling new treatment for vulvovaginal candidiasis

Novel research could pave the way for the treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis, shedding new light on the way microorganisms in our body absorb zinc.

About three quarters of women develop vulvovaginal candidiasis at least once in their life and 140 million women worldwide are estimated to suffer from recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis. The quality of life of such women is greatly affected by such Candida recurrent infections. Current antifungal therapy is not always effective and more and more cases of drug resistance to antifungal drugs are being recorded.

Yeasts belonging to the genus Candida are to be blamed for the onset of vulvovaginal candidiasis. Among the several species of Candida, Candida albicans is the responsible for most of the infections.

By new research carried out by the MRC Center for the Medical Mycology of the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Microbiology and Virology research group of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, the University of Trieste, IRCSS Burlo Garofolo Trieste and other international research centers, the trace mineral zinc has been discovered to play a surprising role. Candida albicans needs zinc for its survival, as well as we do. To fulfil its need the yeast produces the molecule Pra1, whose role is to obtain zinc from its surrounding environment where this mineral is occurring as a food source. The investigators have found out that Pra1 triggers an inflammatory response, that is retained to be the ultimate cause of vulvovaginal candidiasis onset.

Dr. Duncan Wilson, a senior Wellcome Trust member of the MRC Centre for medical mycology at the University of Exeter, together with Prof. Eva Pericolini from the Microbiology and Virology research group at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and Prof. Manola Comar and Prof. Francesco De Seta at the University of Trieste and at IRCSS Burlo Garofalo of Trieste, claim that: “our new discovery on the role of zinc is really exciting, because it suggests that the use of zinc for treatment of Candida infections could block the production of Pra1 proinflammatory molecule. However, we are not able to provide therapeutic advice in this phase yet. We need large-scale studies to confirm this effect”.

In the experiments carried out, it has been demonstrated that inflammation can be prevented after manipulation of Candida genes that lead to the block of Pra1 production. In the article published on the prestigious journal Science Translational Medicine, it has been demonstrated that the application of relatively low levels of zinc in mice, prevents the production of Pra1, ultimately avoiding inflammatory reactions. The importance of this data can be explained by considering that the inflammation is the ultimate cause of burning and itching symptoms in vulvovaginal candidiasis. 

The research group has also enrolled women who had been affected by recurrent vaginal infections, at least once every three months. These women have been asked to apply a vaginal cream that contained a small amount of zinc. The treatment was carried out every night for the first two weeks, and then only twice a week. Five out of the six women affected from vulvovaginal candidiasis that completed the three-months study have not been affected by reinfection during this period.

“This research shows the great importance of basic research, because the results obtained may provide a great help to understand how our body works and sometimes it may even suggest surprising solutions for novel therapeutic approaches”.

Categorie: International - english

Articolo pubblicato da: Ufficio Stampa Unimore - ufficiostampa@unimore.it il 07/12/2023