The Molecular Virology research group investigates replication mechanisms, innate host defense mechanisms and viral evasion strategies, and pathogenesis of plus-strand RNA viruses. The 2 main lines of research are:
- Picornavirus replication, innate host defense, pathogenesis, and antiviral drugs. The family of Picornaviruses contains many important human and animal pathogens that are associated with various acute and chronic diseases.This family includes, among others, the enteroviruses (e.g., poliovirus, coxsackievirus, rhinovirus), parechoviruses, hepatitis A virus, cardioviruses and foot-and-mouth-disease virus. This research line focuses on: (1a) Molecular aspects of picornavirus replication, (1b) Picornaviral strategies to suppress antiviral host responses, (1c) Picornavirus pathogenesis and antiviral drugs.
- The role of RNAi as an innate antiviral defense mechanism in insects. Non-vertebrates lack the adaptive and innate immune responses that mediate antiviral defense in mammals. Yet, insects are able to effectively clear viral infections. We recently showed that RNAi provides antiviral immunity in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. As a counter-defense, many viruses evolved mechanisms to suppress the RNAi pathway. This research line focuses on: (2a) The mechanism of RNAi and viral evasion mechanisms. (2b) The identification of alternative antiviral immune mechanisms in insects.
- Dengue virus – host interactions in mammals and insects.
Arthropod-borne (arbo-) viruses are transmitted by blood-sucking insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks. Dengue virus is one of the most important human arboviruses with an estimated 50 to 100 million cases per year worldwide. No specific treatment of licensed vaccine is available for Dengue virus. We study Dengue virus-host interactions in both the human and insect systems.
Of special interest are:
- the transmission stages of malaria parasites, the infection from men to mosquito and the development of parasites in the mosquito.
- the development of the parasite in the liver.
Activities include basic biological and immunological research on malaria parasites in search for candidate vaccines. The group is:
- conducting translational research in trying to move interesting vaccine candidates into clinical testing.
- the development of a genetically attenuated whole parasite vaccin.
- optimization of human experimental malaria infections.
- field studies in the tropics to understand the natural immuno-epidemiology and the spread of the parasite in the population.
Clinical trials for safety, immunogenicity and protective efficacy are part of the clinical activities. The group is one of the very few centres in the world where experimental human infections are carried out which is a powerful instrument to test vaccine efficacy and study human immunological responses.