Does the word ‘virus’ scare you? Clearly COVID19 has reminded us how vulnerable we are to viruses, but there is nothing new about viral pandemics. Deepening our understanding of viruses is essential to tackle current and future viral threats.
Viruses have been humanity’s constant companions: only in the last century, people have been fighting against a vast range of viral diseases like Zika, Ebola or HIV, to name but a few. Hundreds of researchers funded by the ERC are contributing to this worldwide effort. Hundreds of researchers funded by the ERC are contributing to this worldwide effort Their aims include a better understanding of the fundamental biology of viruses, how they are transmitted and their effects - in a quest to find treatments and mitigation strategies.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has no precedent in the past century, even if its death toll is nowhere near the 100 million victims estimated for the Spanish flu in 1918-19. One of the main reasons for this difference in casualties is the scientific advances made since. The social and economic disruption and countless human casualties arising from viral infections are, however, still far from negligible. The social and economic disruption and countless human casualties arising from viral infections are, however, still far from negligible A clear example is one of the most feared virus of our times: HIV. Since its emergence in the early 1980s, it has infected 75 million people worldwide, out of which almost 32 million have died.
Sara Richter is one of the many ERC grantees focussing their efforts to tackle HIV. In her ERC funded project HIV LTR G-4 she is studying potential targets to treat the virus strain responsible for most HIV infections worldwide.
Developing new therapies requires research from all possible angles. Understanding the interaction between viruses and our cells at a molecular level is one of the possible paths. For example, in his ERC-funded project SUMOFLU Benjamin Hale studies protein modifications that occur in the cell that act as ‘switches’ that prevent the viral infection.
Sebastien Jean Pfeffer studies a molecule that our cells can use to target the virus, but that viruses can also use to target the cell (RegulRNA).
A question that worries many of us is how viruses stay and multiply in our bodies without us even knowing
On the other hand, a question that worries many of us is how viruses stay and multiply in our bodies without us even knowing. Noam Stern-Ginossar is studying a type of herpes virus that, despite having spent most of human history infecting the majority of the world’s population, has managed to remain mostly a mystery to us. Using a selection of the most advanced technologies, her ERC- funded project Profile Infection aims to decipher the “latent” phase of the infection where patients are asymptomatic.
Animals carrying the diseases can also hold valuable secrets to fight viruses – and among the most emblematic are mosquitos. There is certainly a lot to learn from their immune responses. Ronald van Rij studies their antiviral immune response in the project ViVARNAsilencing and is also working on safer vaccines. Animals carrying the diseases can also hold valuable secrets to fight viruses
Now imagine if we could turn these viral enemies into our best allies. ERC grantees are working hard to turn such dream into a reality. Maria Gabriella Campadelli studies how viruses can help us fight cancer by studying a certain kind of viruses that replicate only in tumor cells (ONCOLYTIC-HERPES). Federico Mingozzi, on the other hand, is focusing on the use of viruses to make gene therapy a reality available to everybody (MoMAAV).
We do not know what the next viral threat will be like, but we should do our best to be ready when it comes. With more than 500 projects tackling viruses, ERC’s curiosity-driven research constantly pushes the frontiers of knowledge so that we are better prepared to face the next threat.