Research by Bellevue University Students, Professors Reveals New Mechanism of Controlling Antiviral Immune Responses

November08,2021

Abstract

Two undergraduate students, two alums and two professors from Bellevue University’s biology department recently uncovered a new way for immune cells to control antiviral responses. The work involves a collaboration with Dr. Tom Petro at UNMC and was published in FEBS Letters.

Danielle Baldi and Sierra Athen, who are current students at Bellevue University, and Shawn Freed and Jason Snow, who are now alumni, first started the project in 2018. Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Tyler Moore and Program Director of Biology Dr. Scott Pinkerton also worked on the project.

“The same immune responses that fight viruses also cause damage to our own tissues, so it is important for immune cells to respond no more than necessary,” Moore said. “Our findings show a new way for cells to determine the magnitude of antiviral immune responses.”

The work on the project took place over several years; with classes of students focusing on it and then handing the project off to subsequent students to continue the research.

“The project required culturing live cells, stimulating them with viruses, manipulating the genes of these cells and measuring activation of gene expression,” Moore said. “Students also needed to do a lot of problem solving to optimize experimental conditions and draw conclusions from the data.”

Freed was the first to observe the interesting phenomenon of hyperactive antiviral immune responses in cells when certain pathways were inhibited, Moore said. Freed and others in the group subsequently went on to characterize the conditions when the specific phenomena occurred. Then students worked together over the next three years in different ways to test their hypotheses.

“Essentially, we found that this well-studied pathway blocks antiviral immune responses and we can restore those antiviral responses by blocking that pathway,” Moore said. “By understanding how cells determine the magnitude of responses, it might be possible to develop therapeutics to tailor the immune response to the particular virus infections.”

The paper was also recently selected as a highlight on the FEBS Letters website for being a paper “that contributes significantly to the research field.” The paper is featured on the slider of the FEBS Letters homepage.

*Story by Krystal Sidzyik

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