First Fungal Symposium Facilitates Research Exchange Between Maryland Institutions

May 2, 2019    |  

Presenters from the Baltimore Fungal Biology Center Discuss Research at SymposiumOn March 20, the Baltimore Fungal Biology Center (BFBC), a consortium of fungal researchers from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) and University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), held its first symposium at UMSOD.

This event is a culmination of years of collaboration between the institutions. “Johns Hopkins doesn’t have a dental school, so fungal research gave us an opportunity to harbor interactions with their investigators,” says Mary Ann Rizk, PhD, professor in the Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences at UMSOD and Microbiology and Immunology at UMSOM.

Those meetings prompted the researchers to establish the BFBC in 2015. Consisting of 14 labs across the participating institutions, the mission of the BFBC is to promote excellence in mycology research by fostering collaborations and championing the next generation of fungal biology researchers.

After years of holding joint seminars, Rizk and Valeria Culotta, PhD, professor at JHSPH, wanted to establish a more interactive event where research trainees could present their research and share ideas.

“In seminars, we sit and listen to the talks and then leave, and we thought in an informal setting with food and drinks, the postdocs and students from Maryland and Hopkins would have an opportunity to mingle and get to know each other,” says Rizk.

Interest in the March 25 symposium went well beyond the city of Baltimore with over 60 researchers attending the event. Researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also participated.

“The symposium provided an excellent forum for researchers across the Maryland area,” says Culotta.

Rizk notes that the NIH’s participation is critical for the long-term research aims of the BFBC.
“It’s important for the NIH to be aware that between Maryland and Hopkins, there’s a lot of fungal-related research going on,” she says “Our collaborations through BFBC will ultimately help us with grant applications.”

One of the BFBC’s many strengths is the complementary nature of the fungal research between UMSOD, UMSOM, and the Johns Hopkins schools. While the fungal research labs at Johns Hopkins are focused more on the cellular and molecular level, Rizk’s lab at UMSOD conducts translational research on the oral manifestations of fungus. Her lab is involved in several projects, including designing dentures for rats to explore novel therapeutic strategies against denture stomatitis, which is typically caused by a fungal infection, and investigating the implications of fungal-bacterial interactions in the oral cavity on development of dental caries.

“When we talk about this type of research related to oral health, our colleagues from Hopkins are very interested. We’ve done a lot to help expose our work here at the SOD to this group,” she says.

Given strong attendance and positive feedback, BFBC plans on holding another symposium in the near future.