So what is Candida?
Candida is the most dominant fungal species in our body’s mycobiome. Think of it as the chameleon of the fungal community because it adapts to various environments in our body extremely well – which is both helpful (when the gut balance is maintained) and potentially harmful (when the balance of the microbiome is disturbed) to our bodies.
Tell us a little about your research experience working with Candida.
Oh, where do I begin? I have spent almost four decades focusing my career towards researching systemic invasive fungi with a focus on Candida. During this time, I’ve been involved in the study of microbial Candida virulence factors (what makes them cause disease) and was lucky enough to be one of the first scientists to study the biology and resistance of Candida plaque, scientifically known as biofilms.
Now, I’ve steered my research to use an interdisciplinary approach to understand the complex interactions within biological systems. There’s so much to learn but I can confidently say over the last 10 years we successfully analyzed the bacteriome (bacterial community), the mycobiome (fungal community), metabolomics, proteomics, transcriptomics and lipidomics. It’s a pretty big deal in my world so here are a few of my career highlights:
a) Candida Adherence Studies: I’ll be honest, Candida albicans fascinates me, especially its ability to stick (aka adherence) to our cells.
My team and I established that there is a link between adherence and the harmful levels of various strains of Candida albicans. We studied the role of antifungals and natural products on candidal adherence and identified specific drugs that can interfere with Candida’s ability to stick to our systems.
This discovery was so instrumental that the work culminated in a number of research articles as well as a book called “Candida Adherence to Epithelial Cells” – it’s a real page turner!
b) Contribution of Extracellular Phospholipases to Candidal Virulence: To further explore my intrigue with Candida adherence, I wanted to figure out the role of how Candida secretions contribute to its harmfulness, and to no surprise we found there are specific sub-genes of Candida that are particularly harmful due to their levels.
Our work provided unequivocal evidence that certain secreted enzymes can determine how harmful a particular strain of Candida albican can be. Thankfully, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) noticed and funded this work.
c) Lipid and Sterol Biochemistry: While trying to understand how Candida albicans become harmful, I took it another step deeper and studied fungal lipids and sterols.
We investigated the role of lipids in changing the shape of Candida, affecting Candida’s ability to stick to our systems and form plaque (biofilms). Then we characterized the lipidomics of Candida biofilm. This is an area I have published widely in, including a CRC Volume called “Lipids of Pathogenic Fungi”.
d) Biology and Drug Resistance of Candida Plaque (Biofilms): We discovered Candida plaques (biofilms) can cause a range of wellness issues and their formation proceeds through 3 distinct phases. These studies formed the basis for investigations into the molecular mechanisms of Candida biofilm biology and antifungal resistance.
This represents a breakthrough in the treatment of local and invasive Candida infections and also demonstrates that antifungal resistance in biofilms is a multifactorial phenomenon and is biofilm-phase dependent. The NIH has granted me funding once again (thank you) to continue our studies into the biology and drug resistance of Candida biofilms, using state-of-the-art genomic and proteomic approaches. With this research, we can identify the genes and proteins involved in the formation of biofilms (plaques), as well as the development of drug resistance.
e) Systems Biology: My group has been at the forefront of recent advances by integrating the biology of microorganisms with state-of-the-art technologies including gene sequencing, bacteriome, mycobiome, proteomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics, and lipidomics. Thus, we entered the “Omics” era.
We utilized these resources to profile the bacteriome and mycobiome in people with HIV and we identified the interactions between various members of the microbial communities. These are very important studies in how fungus affects people with HIV and AIDS, and actually led me to be named one of the Principle Investigators of the Oral HIV-AIDS Research Alliance (OHARA).
My team and I are the leading scientists in characterizing the interaction between bacteria and fungi as they relate to health and wellness. These discoveries contributed to influencing how other scientists think and talk about fungi within our bodies – that is when I defined the term “Mycobiome.”
I could go on and on, but I think you can see, I have dedicated my entire career to not only fungal research, but Candida in particular. I am so fascinated by it, I literally dream about it – don’t laugh.
Have you written or lectured about Candida?
I sure have!
- I have published over 400 peer-reviewed articles in the fields of plaque (biofilms), microbial pathogenesis and preclinical studies of antimicrobials (drugs that kill microbes) including antifungals (drugs that target fungi).
- I have given over 300 lectures on the role of fungus in health and wellness across the world. From New Zealand and Australia, to South America, Japan and China, and literally everywhere in between.
- I also just recently published an opinion piece and commentary on the contribution of the mycobiome to health in The Scientist and mBio.
- Lastly, I have authored or edited 7 books on fungus.
Those specific books are:
- Ghannoum MA, Moore KE, and Al-Hassan RH. 1984. Techniques for the Microbiological Analysis of Water. That ES-Salsil, Kuwait.
- Ghannoum MA, and Radwan SS. 1990. Candida Adherence to Epithelial Cells. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.
- Prasad R, and Ghannoum M. 1996. Lipids of Pathogenic Fungi. (eds). CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.
- Ghannoum MA and O’Toole G (editors). 2004. Microbial Biofilms. Publisher, American Society for Microbiology Press. (Reviewed in New England Journal of Medicine, February 2005.)
- Ghannoum M, Perfect J. 2010. Antifungal Therapy. Informa Healthcare 50
- Ghannoum, Mahmoud, Parsek, Matthew, Whiteley, Marvin, and Mukherjee, Pranab. 2015. Microbial Biofilms. Second Edition, Publisher, American Society for Microbiology Press.
- Ghannoum M, Perfect J. 2017. Antifungal Therapy. CRC Press
Is Candida only bad, or is there such a thing as "good" Candida?
So while the word “Candida” is widely looked at as the bogey of the microbiome, it is completely normal to be present in the digestive tract. And healthy Candida levels are vital for proper nutrient absorption and to protect the intestinal tract from other infections.
As a positive, Candida (especially Candida albicans) colonizes the mouth, digestive tract, skin and even the vagina. In fact, it’s found in 70% of healthy adults. We first come into contact with Candida when we are infants.
It all comes back to the fact that since the gut has its own immune and neurological systems, keeping your gut’s balance is key, and therefore you never want to completely get rid of a fungus like Candida. BIOHM balances the function and the structure of the gut’s total microbiome, and disrupts the digestive plaque made by bacteria and fungus.
Problems with Candida only start to arise if we develop immunodeficiency, epithelial damage to our cells or our gut’s microbiome becomes unbalanced.
A lot of the influence on Candida’s role in our body comes from the way we live (diet and stress for example) and the way we practice medicine (such as use of antibiotics, cancer chemotherapy and solid organ transplantation). These predisposing factors provide Candida with an optimal chance to flourish and overgrow, which can affect our health and wellness.
What role can BIOHM play when it comes to Candida?
BALANCE! Our bodies need balance in order to maintain a healthy gut. BIOHM can help maintain the total balance of our gut’s microbiome.
I suggest taking the BIOHM Gut Report to know the exact strains and levels of bacteria and fungus in your digestive systems, including Candida. Then supplement your diet with BIOHM probiotics to maintain the balance of your gut’s total microbiome, as well as break down the digestive plaque that builds up in our gut.