Dr. Manish Butte of UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital is leading a team that has received $650,000 from University of California Research Initiatives to study Valley fever.

UCRI provides funding for research in a variety of academic disciplines across the UC system. The team led by Butte, chief of the division of immunology, allergy and rheumatology in the department of pediatrics, is made up of researchers from UCLA, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco and the Valley Fever Institute of Kern Medical Center.

Around 8,500 Californians were diagnosed with Valley fever last year, which is the highest number since reporting began by the California Department of Public Health in 1995. The infection is caused by a fungus that grows in the soils of the Central Valley of California and parts of Arizona. The majority of people who contract the infection recover either without treatment or with antifungal medication, but a few experience a life-threatening form of the disease that ravages the body for reasons unknown.

The investigators — UCLA’s Butte, Dr. Maria Garcia-Lloret, Dr. Paul Krogstad, Dr. Valerie Arboleda, and Dr. Wayne Grody; UCSD’s Dr. Hal Hoffman; UCSF’s Dr. Morna Dorsey; and Valley Fever Institute’s Dr. Royce Johnson — will study how the immune system falls short when fighting the fungal infection. Their research aims to identify genetic risk factors for those patients who experience the severe form of the disease and to inform improved treatments by modifying the immune response.