Group Leader, Large DNA Viruses
I lead the Large DNA Virus Research Group at The Pirbright Institute. We study a class of large DNA viruses, including poxviruses, which have specialised to replicate in the cytoplasm of the cell. Our research particularly focuses on the high consequence transboundary animal pathogens such as African swine fever virus (ASFV) and the capripoxviruses (CPPV).
We have a number of active research projects investigating Lumpy skin disease virus (LSDV), a member of the CPPV genus. LSDV causes severe, systemic disease in cattle, and is found throughout Africa and some parts of the Middle East. In 2015 the virus entered Europe for the first time, resulting in the deaths of thousands of cattle. My team is carrying out a detailed analysis of the immune response of cattle to LSDV infection with the aim of designing safe and effective vaccines against the disease, and developing new diagnostic tools. For example, one research project aims to characterise interactions between LSDV and the bovine skin. LSDV is believed to be transmitted between cattle via insect bites. This project hypothesises that the early immune response mounted by the host in the skin against LSDV is a key determinant of the outcome of infection.
African swine fever virus is another large DNA virus currently threatening livestock in Europe. ASFV causes a severe haemorrhagic disease in pigs, with high death rates a feature of outbreaks. ASFV entered the Caucasus in 2007 since when it has spread steadily north and west throughout Russia, and into countries on the eastern border of Europe. Persistence of ASFV in wild boar populations in eastern Europe has greatly hindered attempts to restrict the spread of the virus. The research focus in my lab is on the host’s response to ASFV and the mechanisms by which the virus attempts to evade these defences, known as “immune evasion mechanisms”.
Underpinning our work on these important animal pathogens is our fundamental research into the prototype poxvirus Vaccinia virus (VACV). Previous studies in the lab have identified novel mechanisms used by VACV to overcome the immune response, replicate and cause disease. This work is now being translated to related animal pathogens such as ASFV and LSDV in order to develop better methods for diagnosing and controlling disease.