Where do viruses come from? How do they make us sick? These simple questions underpin all research in my laboratory. Our overarching goal is to understand how RNA viruses overcome evolutionary barriers to emerge and cause disease in humans. We study the ways that viruses evolve within individual hosts, and during transmission to new hosts, to do things like evade detection from innate and adaptive immunity or acquire the ability to infect new cell, tissue, and host types. Through our discoveries, we hope to contribute to the global campaigns against emerging and re-emerging pathogens like influenza, Zika, and HIV.
Our work focuses on virus-host interactions in humans and animals, including nonhuman primates. Because monkeys’ physiology, genetics, and immune systems so closely resemble our own, they provide the best possible approximation of human infections. These same attributes make nonhuman primates an important reservoir for emerging and re-emerging viruses. My lab is affiliated with the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, which provides expert veterinary care and support for the nonhuman primates used in research on campus.
My lab is part of the Zika Experimental Science Team (ZEST), a multidisciplinary group of investigators based at UW-Madison, but with colleagues worldwide, studying how Zika virus spreads and causes disease, including birth defects. We are posting data from our ongoing nonhuman primate studies online in real time at https://zika.labkey.com/project/OConnor/begin.view?
WNPRC affiliation and services
I also direct the Virology Services Unit at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. This group provides expert support to virological research conducted at WNPRC.