The research of the LUMC Molecular Virology group focuses on the molecular biology of RNA viruses with a positive-sense genome (+RNA viruses), which constitute the largest group of RNA viruses. The RNA virus world includes many human pathogens that are either familiar or ‘emerging’. The latter often involves transfer from an animal reservoir (so-called zoonotic infections).
Over the last 30 years, our team has accumulated extensive coronavirus know-how, including the handling and characterization of the viruses causing SARS-1 (since 2003), MERS (since 2012) and COVID-19 (since February 2020).
Our coronavirus research is benefitting from the LUMC's recent biosafety level-3 laboratory expansion, which was supported by the crowd-funding initiative #wakeuptocorona
Since the 2003 SARS outbreak, the LUMC Molecular Virology group has been very active in (inter)national collaborative projects on basic research into +RNA virus molecular biology and evolution, vaccine and antiviral drug development, and pandemic preparedness in general. Understanding the interactions between +RNA viruses and the human host is an important part of our research. This fundamental understanding of important molecular mechanisms has not only resulted in a better understanding of +RNA virus replication, and immune evasion mechanisms, but also made it also possible to play a leading role in a variety of applied research projects. In these consortia, in collaboration with international partners from academia and industry, vaccines and antiviral drugs are being developed.
Since February 2020 the LUMC Molecular Virology team department has been deeply involved in the fundamental research on this new pandemic virus, as well as initiatives to develop a variety of countermeasures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts are supported by a range of funding agencies and collaborations, including the Leiden crowd-funding initiative #wakeuptocorona.
The basics of RNA virus replication
We do not only study Coronaviruses, but also alphaviruses, flaviviruses and arteriviruses. We are analyzing the replicative enzymes of these viruses, study how they modify the infrastructure and physiology of the infected cell, and investigate their interactions with the host’s immune system, which are often aimed avoiding or disrupting antiviral responses.
Developing novel antiviral strategies
Due to their high mutation rate and rapid evolution, RNA viruses can readily escape host immunity or antiviral therapy. This challenging feature must be taken into account when developing antiviral strategies, such as vaccination or drug treatment. Furthermore, in the context of vaccine development, we investigate how immunity can be elicited by modifying viral genomes or using them as expression platform. In doing so, our research aims to provide knowledge and prototypes that will improve our preparedness for future virus outbreaks.
- Molecular biology of +RNA virus replication (Bredenbeek, Gorbalenya, van Hemert, Snijder)
- Ultrastructure and function of viral replication organelles (Bárcena, Kikkert, Snijder)
- Innate immunity and innate immune evasion (Kikkert)
- Vaccine development (Bredenbeek, Kikkert, Snijder)
- Antiviral drug development (van Hemert, Snijder)