Chelsea working in a biosafety cabinet in the BL3
TCF lab group April 2019
Sierra and Andrea working in a biosafety cabinet in the BL3

RNA virus emergence, evolution, and pathogenesis

The overarching goal of our research 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, HIV, and now the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

We are firm believers in open science. Data, protocols, and other resources from our SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 projects are available publicly at our open research portal, hosted by LabKey. Our current COVID-19 projects cover 3 main areas:

Katarina Braun preparing SARS-CoV-2 sample for sequencing
MD-PhD student Katarina Braun preparing SARS-CoV-2 cDNA sample for sequencing.
  1. We are sequencing SARS-CoV-2 genomes to understand patterns of virus transmission and evolution.
  2. We are working to make SARS-CoV-2 testing more widely available in the community, by developing our own approaches to field-deployable surveillance testing and by developing protocols K-12 schools can use to implement rapid antigen testing.
  3. We are working with a large consortium of investigators to develop and improve animal models for studying COVID-19 pathogenesis.

More generally, 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.

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.

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