Research Interests

Characterization of novel polyomaviruses

In 2007, our laboratory, in collaboration with Dr. Theo Sloots and Dr. Michael Nissen (Brisbane Royal Children's Hospital) identified a novel virus, WUPyV, present in respiratory secretions from human patients with acute respiratory tract symptoms.  Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that WUPyV, along with its sibling virus KI Polyomavirus, define a novel clade within the family Polyomaviridae. These were the 3rd and 4th polyomaviruses found that infect humans.

Following the identification of the virus, we screened respiratory secretions from a large number of patients for the presence of WUPyV.   In our studies, WUPyV was detected in ~2-3% of patients with acute respiratory tract infections in Brisbane, Australia and St. Louis, United States.  These findings demonstrated that WUPyV is present in respiratory secretions of a large number of individuals and in two continents.   Numerous studies have demonstrated that WUPyV circulates worldwide with prevalences ranging between ~1-7%. We have also examined the seasonality and age distribution of WUPyV.  The youngest patient positive for WUPyV was a one-day old infant, which raises questions as to the modes of transmission of WUPyV while the oldest positive patient detected to date was 53 years old.   The vast majority of the WUPyV positive patients were age 3 and under and most older patients were immunocompromised, suggesting that immune status may play a role in WUPyV biology. Serological analysis demonstrate that the vast majority of adults have antibodies against WUPyV and suggest the infection is commonly acquired during childhood.

WUPyV

We are currently addressing a number of questions, including: Is WUPyV a human pathogen? If so, what kind of disease does it cause? Does immunosuppression contribute to disease induced by WUPyV? Where in the body does WU virus reside? Is WUPyV associated with any human cancers?

In the past few years, multiple additional human polyomaviruses have discovered. Most recently, our laboratory discovered the novel MW and STL polyomaviruses from Next Generation sequencing of human stool specimens. Ongoing efforts aim to define the biological relevance of these viruses to human disease, as well as novel fundamental insights into polyomavirology.