Influenza virus is a small virus with a negative stranded segmented RNA genome that causes infections of the respiratory tract in many species, commonly known as “the flu”. Yearly influenza virus outbreaks kill 20,000 40,000 people/year in the US alone. Continuing outbreaks of a highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus strain in Asia and Europe, first reported in 1998 and the latest influenza virus pandemic caused by the emergence of a new H1N1 influenza A virus in 2009, provide chilling reminders of the dangers posed by the emergence of new influenza virus strains. While currently available vaccines are broadly protective, the ever-changing nature of the circulating influenza virus strains make it necessary to generate new vaccines every year. Investigators at the Center for Comparative Medicine use mice and non-human primate models of influenza virus infection to study the regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses to the virus and to test various vaccine modalities for protective effects.
Dr. C. Miller studies the innate immune factors induced and regulated by influenza virus infection in the rhesus macaque model of infection and tests various vaccine candidates and novel approaches for their effects on antiviral immunity. Dr. Baumgarth studies the effects of innate cytokines and other triggers on the regulation of protective B cell and antibody responses, using the mouse model of infection. Dr. Baumgarth also collaborates with Dr. Xi Chen (Dept. Chemistry, UC Davis) on identifying binding properties of various influenza virus strains to naturally and artificially generated carbohydrates in order to screen for potential inhibitors of virus binding and infection.