Researcher

Dr Megan Denise Lenardon

Keywords

Fields of Research (FoR)

Medical mycology, Mycology, Microbial genetics, Cellular interactions (incl. adhesion, matrix, cell wall)

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Biography

Dr Lenardon obtained a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology from UNSW in 2000, before going on to complete a PhD in Molecular Genetics in 2005 under the supervision of Prof. Ian Dawes. Megan then moved to the world-renowned Aberdeen Fungal Group (AFG) at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where she worked as a postdoctoral research fellow with Profs. Neil Gow and Al Brown. During her postdoctoral years, her research focussed on fungal call wall...view more

Dr Lenardon obtained a BSc (Hons) in Microbiology from UNSW in 2000, before going on to complete a PhD in Molecular Genetics in 2005 under the supervision of Prof. Ian Dawes. Megan then moved to the world-renowned Aberdeen Fungal Group (AFG) at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland where she worked as a postdoctoral research fellow with Profs. Neil Gow and Al Brown. During her postdoctoral years, her research focussed on fungal call wall structure and biosynthesis, with a particular interest in the regulation of chitin synthesis during the growth of Candida albicans, as well as the immune recognition of fungal cell wall components, and C. albicans stress responses. She set up her own group in the AFG in 2012 upon the receipt of a New Investigator award from the Medical Research Council (UK), and in 2017, returned to UNSW as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

Dr Lenardon has four research areas in her group - Candida albicans colonisation of the colon, cell wall structure and biosynthesis, cell division and septation in fungi, and antibody-based therapies and diagnostics for fungal infections (see Research Activities). She is the convenor of the Eukaryotic Microbes Special Interest Group of the Australian Society for Microbiology, an editorial board member of The Cell Surface, an Academic Editor for PLoS ONE, and a grant reviewer for the National Health and Medical Research Council (AU), Australian Research Council, Wellcome Trust (UK) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (UK). 


My Research Activities

Opportunistic invasive fungal pathogens cause over two million life-threatening infections per year worldwide, with mortality ranging from 20–95%. The number of deaths per year is greater than those attributed to malaria, breast cancer or prostate cancer. Bloodstream infections caused by Candida species (candidaemia) are the most frequent life-threatening invasive fungal infections, with the majority caused by one species, Candida albicans

C. albicans colonises the gut of most healthy individuals but does not usually cause serious disease because the physical barriers between our gut and the bloodstream, combined with our immune defences and the suppressive powers of the indigenous gut microbiota, prevent these infections. However, this opportunistic pathogen can cause serious, life-threatening disseminated disease when these barriers and defences are compromised (e.g. seriously ill patients in the ICU, during cancer chemotherapy or immunotherapy, organ/stem cell transplantation, or when the gut microbiota is disturbed), which renders them vulnerable to infections from the C. albicans that colonises their gut. Despite the availability of antifungal drugs, over 40% of these systemic infections are fatal in certain patient groups. There is an urgent clinical need for the development of diagnostics and new therapeutics for invasive candidiasis which research in my group aims to address in innovative ways.

I have been studying the cell and molecular biology of C. albicans, the most common serious fungal pathogen of humans, for over a decade. My research has largely concentrated on fungal cell wall structure and biosynthesis, with a particular focus on the regulation of the synthesis of chitin. This is because chitin is an essential structural polysaccharide found in the cell wall almost all pathogenic fungi, but is not found in humans, and so it represents an attractive target for antifungal drugs. I have established four main research areas in my lab:

Candida albicans colonisation of the colon. Utilising a novel in vitro system which mimics conditions in the human colon, projects in this area are aimed at advancing our understanding of the mechanisms by which this major pathogen adapts to and evolves in a key host niche, how this adaptation can be compromised by natural bacterial components of certain healthy GI microbiota, and how, in the future, this can be exploited to prevent C. albicans infections arising from the GI tract.

Fungal cell wall structure and biosynthesis. Utilising state-of-the-art imaging techniques, I have investigated the precise ultrastructure of the C. albicans cell wall. These methods include high pressure freezing/freeze substitution, transmission electron microscopy and electron tomography. The sugars and proteins that make up the cell wall act as pathogen associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) which are recognised by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) of innate immune cells. Therefore, understanding precisely how the cell wall components are arranged, and how the arrangement changes as cells encounter different conditions, is important to properly understand the innate immune system’s response to fungi.

Cell division and septation in fungi. The fundamental process of septation in fungi is a critically important aspect of fungal cell biology. This process is so fundamental that undermining cell division is a very attractive way to conquer disease by pharmacological intervention. Ongoing projects are aimed at understanding how chitin is synthesised at septation sites and how this process is regulated.

Antibody-based therapies and diagnostics for fungal infections. Antibodies that recognise components of the fungal cell surface may provide bio-tools for the development of diagnostic and therapeutic agents with utility against fungal infections. They will also provide a much-needed alternative to the current inadequate range of chemical-based antifungal drugs. Ongoing projects are aimed at demonstrating the therapeutic and diagnostic utility of monoclonal antibodies which recognise a target on the surface of fungal cells.


My Research Supervision


Areas of supervision

Candida albicans colonisation of the colon

Fungal cell wall structure and biosynthesis


Currently supervising

Matthew Prokop - PhD candidate

Sebastian Schaefer - PhD candidate (co-supervisor with Prof. Cyrille Boyle, Chemical Engineering)

Reeva Nadkar - Honours 2021

Cherie Chen - Honours 2021

Bianca Briscas - Honours 2021

Leah Robins - Research Internship 2021


Past students

Logan Ho - Honours 2020-21

Richard Liang - Honours 2020-21

Reeva Nadkar - Research Internship 2020

Caitlin Bartie - TSP mentee 2020

Matthew Prokop - Honours 2019

Lisa Yang - Honours 2018

Emily Griffiths - Honours 2018

Matthew Prokop - Research Internship 2018

 


My Engagement

UNSW Open Day

BABSOC Activity - Candida art

National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) - Alumni events

 


My Teaching

BABS3061 Medical Biotechnology - course coordinator

BABS3021/MICR3261 Microbial Genetics - lecturer

MICR2011 Microbiology 1 - lecturer

BABS2011 Current Trends in Biotechnology - lecturer

BABS1202 Applied Biomolecular Sciences - lecturer

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Location

School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences
Office: Room 4103, Biosciences South Building (E26)

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Contact

(+612) 9385-1780
(+612) 9385-1483