Viruses pose a major threat to human health worldwide, with rising concerns of imminent pandemics and vaccine resistance, it is more important than ever to understand the interactions between these viruses and their hosts. Because of its fundamental role within the immune system, modulation of the innate immune response is an excellent candidate approach to developing broad antiviral strategies. The aim of my research is to expand our understanding of innate immune responses to virus infections and translate this research into novel therapeutic applications.
I am interested in studying how animals detect and initially respond to virus infections. I have particular interest in investigating the production of long double-stranded (ds) RNA, a molecule that is produced during viral replication and only exists in virus-infected cells. DsRNA is sensed by the cell and triggers a cascade of events, ultimately inducing the production type I interferons (IFNs). IFNs are a family of cytokines who function as the keystone of innate and a bridge to adaptive immune responses in animals. DsRNA-induced responses are pivotal to controlling virus replication, for both RNA and DNA viruses, and exist in some form in all jawed vertebrates. Because of the ubiquity of the response, the possible applications of this research is enormous, from understanding the basic underpinnings of the innate immune response in any jawed vertebrate to developing dsRNA-based antiviral drugs and adjuvants for commercially relevant animals, particularly those to aid human health.