Current Research and Scholarly Interests
Many of the most difficult infectious diseases to treat are caused by RNA viruses, such as influenza, hepatitis B/C/D, rhinovirus, dengue, etc. The challenge to treatment is due in part to the high error rates of RNA virus replication, which give rise to large, genetically diverse populations. Confounding the issue, RNA viruses also possess a great adaptive capacity to mutate under drug or immune pressures, often rendering antiviral therapies ineffectual.
My research aims to overcome these concerns by combating viruses in a different way: by targeting the genomic RNA itself. Unlike proteins that frequently mutate, genomic viral RNA often contain highly conserved regions and structures (such as packaging, translation, or replication signals) that are genetically maintained and strictly preserved. Just as many antibiotics target RNA secondary structures within bacteria, our goal is to develop a completely new class of antivirals that will similarly target RNA structures within viral genomes. To pursue these objectives, my work necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. By combining molecular virology and genetic tools with biochemistry and emerging high-throughput RNA structure-probing technologies, we have uncovered new RNA structure-function relationships and are currently developing a novel influenza therapeutic for the clinic.