What is viral immunology?
The terms “viral immunology”, “viral immunity”, and “antiviral immunity”, all refer to essentially the same field of study. Viral immunology is the study of immune responses to viruses. Viral immunity/antiviral immunity consists of those immune responses which help control viral infection, including innate recognition of viruses, and innate and adaptive immune responses during viral infection. As these types of studies expand our knowledge of what constitutes an effective (vs. immunopathologic) immune response during viral infection, they inform viral vaccine development and development of immunotherapeutic agents.
About the blog
I became interested in viral immunity in 2009, when I took a position evaluating different immunomodulators for effects on HIV replication. An immunomodulator is a drug or substance that alters the immune response. In other words, my job is to see if I can administer a substance that will alter the immune system in such a way as to inhibit or provide immunity to HIV. From there, the spectrum of activity and mechanism of action of the substance(s) will be determined.
As you have likely realized, my job requires knowledge of how the immune system typically responds to viruses, and how this response could be improved. When I first started doing this work, I was disappointed by the lack of a web site that comprehensively describes the subject of antiviral/viral immunity and references the relevant studies and protocols for work in this field. At the time this post was written, there was not even a single Wikipedia entry devoted to the subject.
I started this blog in March 2011 in an attempt to fill the online void. I plan to write about the different aspects of antiviral immunity for both science students and professionals. Since this field is really at the intersection of virology, immunology, and vaccinology, I will be posting interesting studies from all 3 of these fields – basically anything that I think is relevant to understanding the immune response during viral infection, and ways in which it could be improved. The following topics will be represented:
- Classic papers/studies that discuss the immune response during viral infection
- Major breakthroughs in the fields of viral immunology, virology, immunology, and vaccinology
- Specific ways by which viruses can evade the host immune system to establish chronic infection
- Immunopathological responses during viral infection
- Research and development of viral vaccines
- Drugs being tested or prescribed for viral infection that work by enhancing viral immunity
- Protocols used to evaluate/measure immune responses during viral infection
I hope that eventually this site will provide (1) a comprehensive overview of viral immunity for people entering the field, and (2) information for virologists and immunologists who wish to stay up-to-date on recent findings.
About the author
In initiating this blog, I considered that people randomly stumbling upon it via Google search may want to know more about me, the author. With all of the materials up on the web, it is easy to come across student websites hastily put together in hopes of getting a “C” grade in their introductory microbiology course. That is not what this website is. Although I now work at a University, I graduated from college a while ago. I studied virology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and obtained my M.S. in Biology in 2005.
Upon graduating, I worked for the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF) for 4.5 years, in a laboratory studying the regulation of HIV coreceptors and the HIV-binding protein DC-SIGN. My PI was Nelson Michael, director of the US Military’s HIV research program, and spokesperson for RV144 – the army-sponsored HIV vaccine trial that boasts ~30% efficacy. While working at HJF, I was immersed in an environment full of experienced HIV researchers, and taught several invaluable techniques for working with HIV in the lab by my supervisor, Phil Ehrenberg.
In 2009 I moved to Athens, GA to accept a position as a staff scientist at the University of Georgia in the laboratory of Don Harn. And thus started the adventures of a virologist in a well-known immunoparasitology lab. For those of you who aren’t sure what immunoparasitology is: immunoparasitology is the study of the immune response to parasites – usually parasitic worms. Why would a reknowned immunoparasitology expert want to hire an experienced HIV researcher? Let me explain. Certain parasitic worms – helminths especially – have a unique ability to modulate the immune response in such as way as to affect the response to other pathogens, or bystander antigens. My PI has been studying the immune response to helminths, helminth-products, and engineered immunomodulators possessing similarities to these, for decades. Recently, he became interested in evaluating the effects of these immunomodulators on HIV infection outcome.
Ever since the origin of HIV/AIDS, scientists have been working hard to determine how to generate an immune response that can prevent establishment of HIV infection in exposed individuals, or prevent progression to AIDS in infected individuals. Yet for HIV-infected individuals, the course of treatment (HAART) involves a combination of medications designed to inhibit viral replication via direct interaction with the virus, without any medications engineered to boost the immune system to better control HIV. I am hopeful that the study of Don’s immunomodulators in the context of HIV infection will provide insight as to the types of drugs that need to be developed to boost the immune response in HIV-infected individuals.
I hope my rather lengthy bio here has convinced you that I am a real scientist, and helped you gauge my ability to provide you with useful and accurate information. If not, then I invite you to take a look at my LinkedIn page, which provides my professional history in more detail. As I will be discussing the work of other scientists in this blog, I will provide direct links to their publications on the web so you can read about their work in their own words. Please keep in mind that the real experts are the scientists who conducted each study. I am only introducing their work because I found it interesting and relevant to what I do.
The goals of this blog are to educate students on the subject of viral immunology, and to summarize recent studies for professional virologists and immunologists. Some of you may find that my blog posts are not very critical of the studies that I am introducing. This is by design. I want to build bridges, not burn them. The studies that I present here are here because I found them interesting, although not necessarily conclusive. I am choosing to focus on the strong points of each study and the general message that the authors are promoting because I find it more inspiring to focus on the potential of studies. Any fool can criticize, and criticism is usually not inspirational.
That said, scientists reading this blog may disagree with some of the interpretations of the studies presented here. Some subjects are controversial, and there are multiple viewpoints on them. This is why I am encouraging other scientists to post comments here. For those who prefer some guidelines on the types of comments I am encouraging, I suggest the following:
- Tell me and my readers about studies related to the subject of the post that I missed or neglected to reference.
- Inform my readers and myself of conflicting work – any studies that you feel disprove or offer a different perspective than the studies described in a particular post.
- Tell me and my readers about your work if it is related to the subject of the post, and especially if your work is the subject of the post.
- Speculate. I love to speculate, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t speculate too. Just try to be clear on what is proven vs. what is speculation.
- Ask questions. If you read one of my posts and want more information, you should let me know. This helps me to understand the type of material that my readers are interested in.
- Tell us who you are. If you are an expert in the field, please let people know that they are reading an expert comment.
- Let me know if you have (or know of) a web page discussing similar topics. If I like the page and it discusses related topics, I will add it to my links page.
- Don’t be a jerk. This should go without saying, but I don’t want lengthy back-and-forth arguments over opposing viewpoints on my site where both parties end up insulting each other. You are free to disagree with me and with others. I want all viewpoints represented here. However, when disagreement turns into disrespectful insults, I will just delete your post/comments.
Contact the author/site administrator:
If you are a scientist, and you are interested in having your work featured on this blog, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent my employer, the University of Georgia.