Using Molecular Structures to Fight Childhood Viruses

Viral respiratory and gastrointestinal infections are a major cause of illness and mortality in children worldwide. We are currently studying the following important childhood viruses: human astrovirus, human respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza virus. Our broad research interests are to understand the molecular mechanisms of childhood viruses using a diverse toolkit of structural and biochemical techniques.  By visualizing in molecular detail how viruses enter human cells and cause disease, we can use this information to develop new vaccines and antiviral therapeutics.  

Structure-based vaccine design:  A major focus of our lab is understanding how viruses enter human cells and how the immune system “neutralizes” viruses and blocks infection and disease. Using X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, we aim to visualize the molecular structures of virus surface proteins alone, bound to human cell surface receptors, and bound to neutralizing antibodies. Analyses of these molecular structures allow us to develop hypothesis-driven biochemical and cell-based experiments. These studies take an integrative approach to elucidate the key molecular interactions between virus and host. We are using the information derived from these studies to engineer virus surface proteins as effective vaccine immunogens that elicit virus-neutralizing antibodies. These studies are supported by federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH / NIAID).

Protein engineering for technology and therapeutics

Protein engineering: Our lab is expanding into exciting new directions. In one such direction, with support from the Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group, we are engineering next generation anti-cancer antibodies called immune checkpoint inhibitors. In another direction, with support from the Respiratory Viruses Fund, we are developing a new technology to measure SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in plasma.