The virus world
Viruses are the most abundant “living” entities on earth. Many devastating human, animal and plant diseases have been attributed to viruses, but there is a growing awareness that many viruses are symbiotic partners that play an important role in the health of their hosts.
Disease is often considered an “accident” as the only purpose of viruses is to replicate and spread, not to kill their host or to make it sick. Viruses can be found in all forms of life; human, animal, plant or bacteria. Some animal viruses can also infect humans, this is what we call a zoonotic infection. There is an astonishing diversity of viruses, and their ability to quickly multiply, mutate and recombine continuously allows the emergence of new variants.
Viruses that make a species jump
Once in a while, a virus may have changed in such a way that it can make a “species jump”. On many cases, this can cause harm and disease to the new host, in part because the virus has not yet fully adapted to an equilibrium with that new host. Viruses that make a species jump are a pandemic threat as the new host species does not yet have any immunity to that virus.
We aim to translate knowledge into the development of new, innovative vaccines, antivirals and diagnostic tests.
Expanding our knowledge on RNA viruses
In our Virology Division we study the fundamental molecular mechanisms of how a virus binds and interacts with a cell, enters a cell, replicates itself and hijacks the cellular infrastructure for optimal replication, is released, and how it suppresses antiviral immune responses. Understanding how these viruses enter cells and replicate themselves, and how they hide evade the immune system, is key to understanding how a virus can switch host species, and how it can further adapt to optimally replicate and spread in the new host. As related viruses often use the same replication strategy, detailed insight into the molecular mechanism of virus replication is also essential for developing broad-range antiviral drugs, which for most viruses are lacking.
For our studies, we use various sophisticated technologies. For instance, in our lab we have a new light-based technique called biolayer interferometry with which we can study the dynamic interactions between viruses and their receptors in real-time and how this interaction is affected by antibodies or mucus. We’re also happy to be able to interact and collaborate with several experts here at Utrecht University who provide excellent technologies and knowledge base.
In addition to fundamental research, we aims to translate knowledge into the development of new, innovative vaccines, antivirals and diagnostic tests. Furthermore, we have strong interaction with pharmaceutical companies to jointly develop novel vaccines and/or therapeutic antibodies against various corona and influenza viruses.
The hub provides platforms for the development of new innovative, knowledge-based vaccines and/or therapies against viral infections, bacterial infections and cancers.
Developing novel innovative vaccines
Within the Utrecht Molecular Immunology Hub, we have an incredible group of diverse researchers with expertise in fundamental immunology research as well as the capacity to translate their knowledge in solution sets. This hub provides platforms for the development of new innovative, knowledge-based vaccines and/or therapies against viral infections, bacterial infections and cancers. Within the hub, we will use various mechanisms to stimulate interactions among researchers and to provide training and education to young scientists.
We have selected collaborative “showcase projects” to further our immunological knowledge and to develop novel innovative preventive and/or therapeutic solutions. Within the field of viral diseases, we aim to set up a pipeline to develop universal, broad-spectrum vaccines and antibodies against specific virus groups, initially focusing on corona and influenza viruses as proof-of-concept. So, within the Hub, we have a great combination of scientists and expertise to dive deeper into the biology of viruses and to make the translation of our knowledge into potential interventions and therapeutic applications.