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Virus-host interactions in the veterinary field: friend or foe?

Thursday 29 May 2014

Helene Verheije

Viruses interact with their host on many different levels and the nature of each of these interactions ultimately determines the outcome of an infection. Understanding virus-host interactions is crucial to understand virus pathogenesis, but also to ultimately be able to combat the virus infection by vaccines or antivirals. On the other hand, one can exploit virus-host interactions, for example to combat important diseases like cancer. Within the Pathobiology research group of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine we focus on the elucidation of coronavirus-host interactions in order to counteract or exploit these features for the benefit of both companion and production animals. Currently, two research projects are running:

(I) Redirected coronaviruses as anti-tumor therapy
Cancer is the number one cause of death in companion animals. For many cancers, however, no effective cure is available and new therapies are wanted. One innovative therapeutic option is the use of viruses to kill tumor cells. To design tumor-selective oncolytic viruses specific targeting of the viruses to antigens (over)expressed on tumor cells is often required. In collaboration with the Virology department of the Veterinary Faculty we have previously provided proof of principle for redirecting MHV to human tumor cells with subsequent in vitro and in vivo infection and tumor cell killing. The ability to kill human glioma cells is further investigated in collaboration with Neuro-oncology department of the UMCU. In addition, we are extrapolating this research line towards tumors of small companion animals in collaboration with the Department of Companion Animals. Focus lies on the specific redirection of MHV towards canine tumor cells and includes both optimization of the viral vector platform and the elucidation of specific cell surface markers on companion animal tumors. In addition, we aim at improving the imaging of tumors in dogs, a project which is executed in collaboration with the Science Faculty, Department Cell biology. Ultimately, we aim at developing new therapeutic agents and imaging modalities against canine and other companion animals.

(II) Coronavirus-host interactions in poultry
Coronaviruses are pathogens of both veterinary and human importance. The best known avian coronavirus is infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), which has a major impact on chicken health, and causes severe economical losses in the poultry industry. The current vaccines against IBV offer only limited protection, due to the circulation of many different serotypes. In addition, IBV-like strains are nowadays isolated from many other avian species, but their pathogenesis and host tropism is not well understood. Currently, we focus on the elucidation of avian coronavirus-host interactions at the molecular level, but also at the level of the animal by studying the pathogenesis of these viruses. Another part of this research line focuses on the interaction of avian coronaviruses with chicken innate immunity, in collaboration with the Division of Immunology and the Department of Molecular Host Defense of the Veterinary Faculty. Finally, we focus on the development of new vaccines against this important virus for poultry.

A wide variety of techniques are used ranging from molecular biology to protein biology, cell biological and virological assays, cell culture, immunostainings and in vivo experiments.

6 or 9 months

Dr. Hélène Verheije: m.h.verheije@uu.nl; 030-2534296