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Boy (5) with leukaemia dies of fungal infection: Researcher appointed to help improve diagnosis

A charity set up in memory of a five-year-old boy has funded a researcher to work on finding answers to the deadly fungal infection that claimed his life.

Noah’s Pink Balloon Leukaemia Fund, in partnership with the University of Exeter’s MRC Centre for Medical Mycology, is delighted to announce Noah’s Pink Balloon Fellowship.

The focus of the Fellowship is to research Mucormycosis, a complication that occurs in patients undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia, or in those with a weak immune system. It is the second most common mould infection leading to excessive destruction of organs, blood vessels and has extremely high mortality rates of 80%.

Noah Tesselaar died in June 2020, after his leukaemia blood cancer rendered his immune system too weak to fight off an invasive fungal infection. Doctors treating Noah were unable to identify that Mucormycosis had taken hold until after his death. His family set up Noah’s Pink Balloon Leukaemia Fund in his memory and to help others. The charity is supporting vital research to help clinicians diagnose and identify the type of fungal infection a patient has, so that treatment can be offered early.   

With the appointment of a new clinical research fellow, they have made an important step forward. The focus of the clinical research fellow will be to find better ways to diagnose Mucormycosis, so that it can be identified and treated earlier, with a goal of saving lives.

The Noah’s Pink Balloon Fellowship will be jointly supervised by Professor Adilia Warris and Professor Chris Thornton, of the University of Exeter. Prof Warris said: ”We conduct innovative and world-leading multidisciplinary research in fungal infections. We’re proud to partner with Noah’s Pink Balloon Leukaemia Fund to facilitate a pioneering study in this field. We have appointed a highly talented and passionate clinical research fellow, and we’re very much looking forward to working with her on this important project. Fungal infections in immunosuppressed patients are under researched, and an underfunded area. This research is desperately needed to provide new ways to diagnose and treat these deadly fungal infections.”

The researcher appointed to the Fellowship post is Alyssa Hudson, a registrar in medical microbiology at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.  She said Mucormycosis is “incredibly difficult” to diagnose, particularly at an early stage when it is most treatable.

Alyssa, originally from St Austell in Cornwall, said: “During my clinical research fellowship, I will focus on developing rapid and easy-to-use diagnostics for Mucormycosis, using existing technology and methods developed by Prof Chris Thornton, a principal investigator at the Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Exeter.

Fungal infection is an underfunded research area and receives far less investment than research into infections caused by bacteria and viruses. The funding we have received from Noah’s Pink Balloon Leukaemia Fund has made this fellowship possible and will further research into this neglected and deadly fungal infection.”

Chair and trustee of Noah's Pink Balloon Leukaemia Fund Susan Tesselaar said: “We are so delighted to launch the fellowship as the first major research project for the charity. Research is what Noah’s Pink Balloon is all about, it is the key to preventing what happened to Noah happening to others in the future. I would like to thank the University of Exeter’s MRC Centre for Medical Mycology for partnering with us and we look forward to working together in a bid to bring urgent attention to invasive fungal infections and subsequently saving lives.”

To donate to Noah’s Pink Balloon, visit the charity’s website.

Date: 25 July 2022

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