About our research group/lab
The ecology and evolution of animal influenza viruses.
Wild birds form an influenza A virus reservoir from which viruses repeatedly spread to domestic animals such as poultry and pigs. Subsequently, they represent a threat for emergence in humans. We perform surveillance studies in wild birds in the Netherlands (and many other countries) to increase our understanding of viral ecology and evolution in wild birds. These studies are integrated into national, European and worldwide contexts (NIH/CEIRS, EU DeltaFlu, COMPARE, EFSA, OFFLU). We conduct combined experimental, mathematical and bioinformatic studies to understand how and why highly pathogenic variants of influenza evolve from (only some) low pathogenic avian influenza viruses, and how highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses are able to spread and be maintained in migratory wild birds.
Zoonotic and pandemic influenza viruses.
The detection of any new zoonotic or pandemic strains of influenza virus in humans raises questions about host-adaptation and pathogenesis, and demands the development of counter-measures to limit their impact. We investigate viral and host determinants of cell/tissue tropism in relation to disease, host immune responses, and pathological changes in different tissues. We are developing a broadly reactive H5 vaccine candidate using a unique reverse genetics vaccine design approach, as well as new ‘aerosol biology’ tools to investigate virus transmission and transmissibility for influenza, which will also be of interest for other respiratory pathogens. Using these new tools and older ones, such as a ferret transmission model, we investigate what determines influenza virus transmissibility between mammals.
Epidemic influenza viruses.
Annual vaccination against seasonal influenza and the treatment of patients with antiviral drugs are our main ways to limit the impact of influenza epidemics. However, viral genome plasticity is responsible for continuous virus escape from human population immunity (‘antigenic drift’) and the rapid emergence of drug-resistance upon treatment. We investigate the emergence of drug-resistant mutations in NA of influenza viruses, and we are currently preparing analyses for the new generation of polymerase-inhibitors. We developed ‘antigenic cartography’ methods to quantitatively study the antigenic drift of HA, investigate the molecular basis of antigenic drift and work towards an improved prediction of vaccine strains. We are expanding these studies to NA and the prediction of antigenic traits of influenza viruses. To understand the host immune response to influenza viruses better, we are developing a B cell immunology platform to supplement our toolbox for T cell and serological studies.