BAKERSFIELD - Are you more susceptible to Valley Fever symptoms because of your genes? That's the question researchers at Kern Medical Center want to answer to find better ways to treat those infected. But after two years of trying, the study remains unfunded.
Some people get Valley Fever and never know they have it, while others die unexpectedly. This study aims to determine whether a certain genetic defect may be the reason for the varied reactions.
KMC's Chief of Infectious Disease, Dr. Royce Johnson, has been studying Valley Fever for 30 years.
"I came up with the idea of doing a study like this probably more than 20 years ago," said Dr. Johnson.
In the 1990s, Dr. Johnson says we didn't have the tools to study genetics. But, in the last few years advances have made to make the study of genes possible.
"I think we have the technology here to make it a reality, whereas before it was wish rather than a doable idea," said Dr. Johnson.
KMC researchers agree every person contracts Valley Fever the same way, by breathing in the fungal spores from Valley dust, but it's what happens inside the body that's different.
"We would be able to have an understanding of what the genetic defect is that gives people particularly severe disease," said Dr. Johnson.
The two-year, $1 million study would collect genetic samples from those with Valley Fever symptoms ranging from severe to non-existent. Dr. Johnson says the study could lead not only to better treatments, but better vaccines.
"I thought that's a study that's got to be done and that's a study that our community would want to be done," said Sandra Larson, Secretary for the Valley Fever Americas Foundation.
Since 2010, Dr. Johnson submitted grant proposals on two different occasions to the National Institute of Health.
"The study is not that hard to do," said Dr. Johnson.
But, both times Dr. Johnson was denied. However, with the NIH coming to Kern County this fall, he's hoping they'll reconsider. Otherwise a local group, Valley Fever Americas Foundation, will consider picking up the $1 million tab.
"It's a lot of money, but it just has to be done," said Larson. "It has to be done, and I believe it will be done."
The NIH along with the head of the Centers for Disease Control, will be here in late September for a Valley Fever symposium.