Allison Elliott-Shannon

By

College: Medicine

Going Viral: UK Scientist Takes on Human Metapneumovirus

Published: Aug 21, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 21, 2013) — You may not know the human metapneumovirus by name, but chances are that you have met somewhere before.

 

HMPV, as it's known to virologists, is a common respiratory virus that new studies suggest is second only to influenza in the number of viral pneumonia cases it causes worldwide every year. Especially dangerous for small children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system, the virus strikes almost 100 percent of people on Earth at some point in their lives.

 

Despite its wide reach, the virus was only identified in 2001, and few people outside the scientific community have heard of it. Physicians can now diagnose HMPV, but have no specific way to treat the illness.

 

Becky Dutch of the University of Kentucky wants to change that, and she's working with some of the most advanced biomedical technology available to do so.

 

Dutch is a professor in the UK College of Medicine Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Along with the team in her lab - composed mostly of graduate and undergraduate students she mentors - she is studying how the human metapneumovirus infiltrates and attacks the respiratory tract, taking a basic science approach to better understanding how the disease functions in human airways.

 

“From early on I knew that I loved science,” said Dutch, whose father is also a scientist. Her mother is a musician, and she said that she debated the arts versus science up until her entry to undergraduate study. Ultimately, the lure of the lab won out.

 

After completing an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and microbiology at Michigan State University, Dutch did a one-year master’s program in biochemistry at Cambridge University in Great Britain, on a Churchill Fellowship. Upon her return to the U.S., she completed a doctorate in biochemistry at Stanford University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago. From Northwestern, Dutch was hired as an assistant professor at UK in 2000. She quickly rose up the ranks, receiving tenure as an associate professor in 2006, and being named a full professor in 2011.

 

“I was looking for great science and a wonderful place to live,” Dutch said of her move to the Bluegrass state.

 

Early in her career, Dutch focused on the Nipah virus, the dangerous pathogen on which the film “Contagion” was based. The Nipah virus is a biosafety level 4 pathogen, meaning Dutch and her lab could not actually study samples of the whole virus -- also meaning everyone in the Lexington area can breathe easier knowing that no vault at UK contains the dangerous virus.

 

In a move to diversify her research, plus work with a virus she could study in its whole state, Dutch moved toward studying the biosafety level 2 HMPV. Because the virus is less dangerous, and relatively common in the outside world anyway, Dutch and her staff can work with samples of live, whole virus under controlled conditions.

 

“It’s a beautiful case of ‘there’s so much we don’t know’,” said Dutch of her work with HMPV, which has only been identified and named by the scientific community for a dozen years.

 

Serum testing confirms that the virus was active at least as early as the 1950s, although Dutch suspects it could actually have been active in the human population for centuries, as one of many non-specific respiratory viruses afflicting people.

 

Dutch has taken her research on the road, presenting many talks about HMPV, and recently appearing on the This Week in Virology podcast, a widely-circulated online production with appeal to academic scientists as well as lay people, high school science teachers, physicians and others.

 

Initially, Dutch and her team researched HMPV grown in a petri dish full of human cells. However, their research has now advanced to the point that they need to study the virus in a model of the human airway.

 

Because animal models do not sufficiently approximate the human airway, and it would not be safe or ethical to introduce the virus to human subjects, Dutch has turned to a commercially available model of the human airway grown from actual human cells. The model looks like a clear dish to the naked eye, but under a microscope it has all the layers seen in a human respiratory tract, right down to the cilia present in airways. The membrane model even produces mucus. Studying how the virus behaves when introduced to this model enables the scientists to see how the virus infects human tissue.

 

Developing a vaccine for HMPV is likely to be extremely difficult. Scientists have been working on a vaccine for the related respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for more than 40 years, with poor results. In fact, the first attempted RSV vaccine actually appeared to worsen subjects’ reaction to the virus, rather than providing immunity.

 

What is possible with HMPV is to develop a pharmaceutical intervention in the form of antiviral therapies. Antiviral medications may be familiar to anyone who has been prescribed a drug like Tamiflu for influenza. Administered appropriately, antivirals may cut the duration and severity of the illness. In the elderly, small children and those with weakened immune systems, that could mean the difference between a bothersome illness and a life-threatening disease.

 

HMPV is widespread among humans across the globe. In healthy adults, it causes symptoms ranging from respiratory difficulties to flu-like aches and fevers. In vulnerable populations, its effects can be worse. If humanity as a whole is to get the upper hand on HMPV and related viruses, basic science work by researchers like Dutch will be key. Perhaps in a few decades, a trip to the doctor may result in a lab test for HMPV and appropriate antiviral medication being prescribed. For now, the virus is active in Dutch’s lab models, where along with her team she is searching for answers about this pervasive pathogen.


 

MEDIA CONTACT: Allison Elliott-Shannon, allison.elliott@uky.edu

 

img_0005.jpgimg_0008.jpgimg_0011.jpg
September
 
 
 
 
1
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
LGBTQ* and Friends Employee Picnic
Thu
2
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Fri
3
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Sat
4
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Sun
5
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Labor Day - Academic Holiday
Mon
6
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: EXPRESSIONS
Tue
7
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: MEDITATION
UK Women's Club Volleyball - Open Gym
From The Streets to The Stage With Monti Washington
Wed
8
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: YOGA
#IAMACCEPTANCE Let's Talk Mental Health with Hakeem Rahim
Thu
9
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
2016 New Chinese Students Welcome Party
Accounting Internship & Career Fair
Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Suicide Prevention Training
Fri
10
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Sat
11
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Whipping In The Kitchen
Sun
12
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Mon
13
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: EXPRESSIONS
UKWC Welcome Coffee
Tue
14
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Last Day to Drop a Course Without Appearing on Transcript
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: MEDITATION
Greek Park Pictures
Wed
15
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: YOGA
Thu
16
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
A Day of Rising Strong
Fri
17
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Sat
18
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Sun
19
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Mon
20
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
UK Women's Forum Board Meeting
UK Elder Care Lunch & Learn - Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: EXPRESSIONS
Cuban Heritage Festival
Tue
21
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Last Day to Withdraw to Receive 50% Refund
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: MEDITATION
Horticulture Club Farm Market Sale
Wed
22
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: YOGA
TGIT with SAB
Thu
23
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Fri
24
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Sat
25
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Film Screening of "The Fly Room"
Sun
26
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Film Screening of "The Fly Room"
Let's Talk!
Empower: People of Color Support Group
Film Screening of "The Fly Room"
Mon
27
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
FIFA Tournament
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: EXPRESSIONS
UK Engineering and Computer Science Career Fair
Banned Books--A short history
Tue
28
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
FIFA Tournament
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: MEDITATION
Horticulture Club Farm Market Sale
Cats Got The Vote
Business Internship & Career Fair
Women In Technology Gala event for UK undergraduate women
NSE (National Student Exchange) Information Session
Wed
29
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
FIFA Tournament
Let's Talk!
Let's Talk!
Wildcat Wellness Workshop: YOGA
Yoga at Commonwealth Stadium
Thu
30
Louis Zoellar Bickett: Saving Myself
Let's Talk!
Indonesia Focus Conference
Indonesia Focus Conference
Craft Writing: Beer, the Digital, and Craft Culture
Fri
 
Sep 28
Let's Talk! 09/28/2016

Repeats every 7 days until Thu Dec 15 2016 .
Thu, 09/29/2016

Reset Page