Study aims to ID genetic factors linked to blastomycosis
Researchers currently recruiting up to 350 Wisconsin children and adults
For Hub City Times
MARSHFIELD — Marshfield Clinic scientists have launched a new study aimed at determining which genetic factors increase people’s susceptibility to blastomycosis, a deadly fungal infection found throughout central and northern Wisconsin.
The first phase will include recruitment of up to 350 study participants. Anyone previously diagnosed with blastomycosis, or blasto, is encouraged to participate in the study, which could give doctors insight into a mysterious disease that has impacted Wisconsinites for generations.
“We’re in the heart of blasto country. One significant frustration is we don’t know a lot about the disease,” said Dr. Holly Frost, study co-investigator and pediatrician at Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center. “If we can find genetic variations that indicate which people respond severely to this disease, it could speed up diagnoses and allow doctors to treat it earlier.”
A concern with blasto is the spectrum of severity among patients of all ages and overall health. For instance, the lung infection may spread quickly in a healthy child, resulting in death. Meanwhile, a 70-year-old adult with a compromised immune system may recover quickly.
The inconsistency is why it is important researchers unearth any genetic clues that could put doctors closer to understanding blastomycosis, said Dr. Jennifer Meece, a Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation scientist and national blasto expert who has studied the disease for more than 10 years.
Scientists know that blasto is caused by breathing in a naturally occurring fungus often found in moist soil containing rotting plants and wood and that most infections occur in spring and fall. However, symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses, making the disease difficult to identify early. Also, symptoms do not develop until three to 15 weeks after infection. While it is classified as a rare disease nationally, blasto cases in Wisconsin far exceed the national average.
“So much about blastomycosis remains unknown and seemingly random — from who is susceptible to what exactly spurs an outbreak — but we know the answers are on the horizon,” said Meece. “It’s enthralling to launch such a study that could impact so many people’s lives.”
The study is open to children and adults in Wisconsin, regardless of where they were diagnosed. Study participants do not need to be Marshfield Clinic patients. Due to budget constraints, this first study requires all participants speak English.
Participation requires about one hour of clinic time for researchers to gather a sample, explain the study, and answer questions. Each participant will receive $25. For more information call 715-221-6445 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This study is funded by $150,000 from the Marshfield Clinic Development’s Clinician Scientist Research Award.