Students, faculty discover possible mousepox vaccine vector
After several years of work, a team of Albright scholars — led by Adam Hersperger, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology — published a paper on mousepox virus in the scientific, peer-reviewed journal, Virology. Results of the group’s work examining strategies used by cells to fight off viruses could someday prove to be a useful vaccine vector. “It is replication-defective, which implies that it would be a safe vaccine to use in a wide variety of hosts, including humans,” explains Hersperger.
The paper, “Ectromelia virus lacking the E3L ortholog is replication-defective and nonpathogenic but does induce protective immunity in a mouse strain susceptible to lethal mousepox,” explores the importance of the gene E3L to ectromelia (also called mousepox) virus — a highly lethal disease in mice of remarkable resemblance to human smallpox.
Hersperger explains that one common strategy in virology is to remove a gene of interest from a virus and then examine how its replication is affected.
“We discovered that E3L is an essential gene for mousepox virus because its removal prevented the virus from completing its replication cycle,” he said. “We also found — in collaboration with a lab at the University of Pennsylvania that can perform mouse studies — that our mutant virus lacking E3L was able to protect mice from the negative consequences of normal (wild-type) mousepox when used like a vaccine. Therefore, our mutant virus may prove to be a useful vaccine vector.”
Of the four Albright students involved in the study, three have completed their undergraduate degrees and are continuing their journeys into the medical field. Tiffany Frey ’17 is currently studying immunology and microbiology as a graduate student at the University of Florida, Erin Hand ’15 is training to become a pharmacist, and Maura Sheehan ’17 plans to attend medical school. In addition, Julia Pevarnik ’19 plans to attend graduate school to study biomedical sciences after completing her undergraduate degree in biology/biotechnology.
The multi-year mousepox study was completed through independent study classes and Albright’s Creative Research Experience (ACRE) program. Through ACREs, students are given opportunities to conduct research or complete creative activities in partnership with faculty mentors. And in Albright’s mammalian cell culture laboratory, students and faculty focus on examining strategies used by cells to fight off viruses.
“We are interested broadly in the interplay between viruses and the host organisms that become infected,” says Hersperger, who in addition to virology, specializes in infectious and genetic diseases, bacteria/microbiology, and immunology. “At a fundamental level, all viruses must enter into cells to replicate themselves to make virus offspring. Fortunately, various anti-viral mechanisms have evolved on the host side to help fend off invaders and protect the organism from the detrimental effects of a viral infection.”
Through ongoing National Institutes of Health grant work, Hersperger and students at Albright are continuing to research new virus/host interactions, including projects involving the viral protein B22 and a separate project characterizing a viral protein that is related to mammalian epidermal growth factor.