Yale Scientist Studying Virus Infections Named Burroughs Wellcome Investigator

Akiko Iwasaki, assistant professor in the Section of Immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine.
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Akiko Iwasaki, assistant professor in the Section of Immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine, is one of 11 recipients of the 2005 Burroughs Wellcome Inves

Iwasaki will study the role of mucosal lining cells in the initiation of immune responses against viral infections. The focus will be on the interaction of host and virus at the natural routes of entry for a variety of viruses that cause disease, including genital herpes and respiratory influenza infection.

With this award, Iwasaki will identify the molecules that these cells use to alert the antigen presenting cells during viral infection in distinct mucosal tissues, the genital tract and the lung.

“We hope that our study will lead to the identification of factors that stimulate the immune response and that would be effective at the site of natural virus entry,” said Iwasaki. “Ultimately we would like to incorporate these factors into vaccine designs and immunomodulatory therapies.”

Antigen presenting cells begin the immune responses to pathogens. However, it was unknown whether the cells that become the actual target of infection, most typically the cells of the mucous membranes, play a role in detecting viral infection and alerting the antigen presenting cells to begin the response.

Recent work by Ayuko Sato, a postdoctoral fellow in Iwasaki’s laboratory, showed that the mucosal lining cells sense viral infection through Toll–like receptors. The recognition event leads to activation of the antigen presenting cells, which then go on to stimulate T cell responses that clear the viruses.

The Burroughs Wellcome Investigator in Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases program is intended to shed light on the issues of how human hosts handle infectious challenge. The grants give recipients the freedom and flexibility to pursue new avenues of inquiry and higher–risk research projects that hold potential for advancing the understanding of how infectious agents and the human body interact. Iwasaki is the first Yale faculty member to receive one of these awards.

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Janet Rettig Emanuel: janet.emanuel@yale.edu, 203-432-2157