ORONO — A North Carolina research foundation is awarding a University of Maine professor $500,000 to study how common pathogens become potentially deadly.

The university said Wednesday that the Burroughs Wellcome Fund is awarding Robert Wheeler the five-year grant. Wheeler is an assistant professor of microbiology at the university.

He will study how Candida albicans, the most common human fungal pathogen, transforms into a potentially fatal fungus in the vital organs of people with compromised immune systems. Wheeler said in a statement that the goal of his work will be to improve diagnosis and therapy of fungal infection.

The university described Candida albicans as the leading cause of hospital-acquired infection and the cause of several thousand annual deaths in the United States.

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