Associate Professor of Virology in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
The primary focus of our group is upon the mechanisms by which orthopoxviruses affect host functions, particularly those involved in host immune processes. We are employing poxviruses in these studies, because these viruses, which encode over 200 proteins, are unusually adept and sophisticated in targeting components of the immune system. Recently, we have primarily investigated the ways in which poxviruses modify cytokine-mediated responses to infection. We have shown that these viruses affect these responses in several different ways: (i) by preventing the synthesis of cytokines; (ii) by encoding soluble secreted versions of receptors for cytokines; and (iii) by interfering with cytokine signaling pathways. Currently, we are particularly interested in how poxviruses (in a species-specific way) positively or negatively affect the activation of NF-kappaB transcription factors. Knowledge of the fundamental mechanisms involved in poxviral interference with host processes should assist the development of therapies and vaccines for a variety of conditions associated with infectious diseases, inflammatory diseases, autoimmune diseases, cancers, and transplantation.
A second focus of our group is the development improved vaccines against variola and related orthopoxviruses. As part of the South Eastern Regional Center of Excellence in Emerging Infections and Biodefense, we are collaborating with investigators at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Dr. B. Johnston), and Emory University (Dr. M. Feinberg), to develop better virus-based vaccines against variola virus. In addition, together with Dr. Barbara Sherry (College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University) we are investigating the effects of vaccinia virus-based vaccines upon cardiac cells and the heart. In these two projects, our goals are to develop potent vaccines that pose far fewer risks of complications than those currently available.