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Our Research

The National B Virus Resource Center is located in the Viral Immunology Center of Georgia State University’s Department of Biology. Our laboratory is studying viruses that directly affect the central nervous system of infected hosts. Current projects in the laboratory are focused on the molecular biology of human and nonhuman primate alphaherpesviruses and the diseases they cause, immune response characterization, antiviral strategies, including drug discovery and high-throughput drug screening within unique, high containment laboratory suites. We are also actively engaged in the study of unique reoviruses that have the capacity to infect the central nervous systems of non human primates, langur viruses, and a newly isolated mangaby herpesvirus.

Alphaherpesviruses target the central nervous system of susceptible hosts, and subsequently establish latent infections generally without severely damaging the host. There may be an initial acute phase when the virus successfully replicates in peripheral tissue of the host. This replication, when it occurs, induces a series of specific immune functions that can serve as markers of infection. We use these markers to design, develop and implement diagnostic assays that will be useful during the management of clinical disease.

Each herpesvirus coexists peacefully with the natural host in which it has co-evolved, but when the viruses for any reason find themselves no longer in the natural host, the usual host:parasite relationship may change dramatically. In some closely related hosts the virus can replicate and, in some cases, pathogenesis of the infection is radically more severe than that which occurs in the natural host. For example, this can be seen when New World monkeys are infected with humans herpesviruses, e.g., HSV-1 or HSV-2, or when humans are infected with B virus from a macaque, a member of the Old World monkey family. Our studies focus on the mechanisms by which virus kills the host and how that process can be circumvented with early identification, appropriate antiviral drugs, and in the future, effective vaccines. We continually screen the efficacy of existing as well as novel antiviral agents to inhibit the growth of viruses that can potentially cross into the human population, either through occupational exposure or through more subtle contact.

Our laboratory provides a global resource funded by National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Research Resources to assist in the identification of zoonotic disease transmissions and develop enhanced strategies to detect virus in macaques. We particularly focus on the transmission of B virus from Asian monkeys to humans who come in contact with them. Members of the genus Macaca include rhesus monkeys, cynomolgus macaques, snow macaques, as well as all other macaques. If the macaque is in the midst of the acute or recurrent infection with B, virus can be transmitted to people who handle these monkeys through cuts, scratches, splashes, bites, or even contaminated equipment or surfaces, i.e., fomites.

To counter the effects of this virus, the NIH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have instituted a critical set of guidelines for institutions to follow in the event of exposures. Our laboratory provides immediate support to these cases to assist in the rapid diagnosis of B virus infections and to determine the efficacy of selected treatment. Lifetime patient monitoring is provided to identify possible reactivation disease and to better track this unique herpesvirus as it has begun its existence in the human populations.

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