Viruses that infect the respiratory tract are responsible for extensive morbidity and mortality in human populations worldwide. Influenza virus is a particular concern because of its ability to periodically cause deadly pandemics, most recently in 2009 after the spread of a swine-origin H1N1 virus to humans. Novel avian influenza viruses such as H5N1 and H7N9 continue to cause sporadic cases of severe disease in humans and are an ongoing pandemic threat. An understanding of how the immune system controls influenza and other respiratory viruses and provides long-term protection is critical for the rational development of effective vaccination and treatment strategies.
Studies in our lab are primarily aimed at understanding the multiple roles of virus-specific B and T cells in determining the outcome of viral infection of the respiratory tract. In particular, we are interested in the character, longevity, and protective capacity of B and T cell memory induced by infection and vaccination. A large component of work in the lab focuses on the response of the human immune system to infection and vaccination; other work uses a variety of animal model systems to investigate basic immunological mechanisms. A recent initiative in the lab is the identification of viral genes and host responses that influence the severity of respiratory virus infections. This work will identify strategies for engineering new antivirals and improving vaccines.
Many projects involve strong collaborative interactions within centers at the University of Rochester that focus on immunity to respiratory pathogens. These centers include the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center (RPRC), the New York Influenza Center of Excellence (NYICE), the University of Rochester Genomics Research Center (URGRC), and the Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling (CBIM).