Our Science: Virus vs Antibody
Viruses are intracellular parasites that hijack the biological machinery of their host cells to replicate. This can damage and kill the cells, resulting in disease. A virus infected cell produces virus particles; these are nanoscopic biological machines that transmit infection from one cell to another. Virus particles enter target cells via specific pathways that are largely defined by interactions with receptors at the cell surface.
Antibodies are a central feature of the adaptive immune response to viral infection. They specifically bind to and neutralise virus particles by interfering with the processes of virus entry. This controls, curtails and prevents infection by disrupting the ongoing spread of virus. However, as a result of the perpetual arms race between virus and host, viruses have evolved an array of antibody evasion strategies.
We are investigating the fundamental mechanisms of virus entry and antibody evasion. What tricks do viruses use to achieve entry despite the presence of neutralising antibodies? Understanding these processes may aid the design of new therapies and vaccines to fight infection.
Model systems: which viruses do we study?
Our research is relevant to many different viral infections. However, some viruses are easier to study than others. Our current focus is antibody evasion by hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Both HCV and HIV establish persistent life-long infections, during which they experience continual assault by the immune system. Consequently, both viruses exhibit a wide range of immune countermeasures. As such, HCV and HIV are excellent tools to discover and investigate fundamental antibody evasion mechanisms.