Drs. Falsey and Walsh’s research activities are based primarily at Rochester General Hospital, located 7 miles from the URMC main campus. Dr. Walsh joined the ID unit in 1982 and Dr. Falsey in 1991 following completion of fellowships at the University of Rochester. Their research has principally been funded by NIAID and NIA. Research interests are broadly directed towards respiratory tract infections, primarily those caused by viral pathogens. Much of the work has been focused on Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), including the basic virology, epidemiology, immunology, and pathogenesis of RSV in infants and adults. In addition, research activities also involve other pathogens, such as human metapneumovirus, coronaviruses and influenza viruses.
Early work by Dr. Walsh was the first to identify and characterize the RSV fusion (F) and attachment glycoproteins (G), demonstrating their importance in viral replication, as targets of neutralizing antibody, and as leading potential vaccine candidates. This work formed the basis of translational studies of the humoral and mucosal immunology of RSV infection. Epidemiology and pathogenesis studies carried out by Drs. Falsey and Walsh during the past 20 years were the first to firmly establish RSV as second only to influenza virus as a cause of severe respiratory illness in older adults and those with underlying cardiopulmonary disease. Based on these results, Dr. Falsey has led several single site and multicenter studies of experimental RSV vaccines in elderly and high-risk populations. In addition, she was the lead investigator of a multi-centered trial of high-dose influenza vaccine resulting in FDA licensure. Recently, Dr. Falsey’s work has centered on the clinical and molecular interaction of viral and bacterial pathogens in lower respiratory tract infection. This work includes exploring use of whole blood transcriptomics to differentiate viral from bacterial infection. This novel approach is supported by the NIAID-funded University of Rochester’s Respiratory Pathogen Research Center (RPRC) that is co-directed by Dr. Falsey with David Topham in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The work has been encouraged by a recently awarded monetary prize from NIH to continue this line of inquiry, with the goal of reducing antibiotic resistance by more judicious use of antibiotics. Currently, Dr. Walsh is leading a diverse group of UR collaborators in a wide-ranging RPRC supported pathogenesis study of primary RSV infection in infants.