Nicholas Heaton, PhD joins MGM in August 2015

Durham, NC — Nicholas Heaton, PhD, joined the Duke University School of Medicine, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology as an assistant professor in August 2015.

A description of Dr. Heaton’s current research follows:

Genetic engineering of influenza viruses to study viral pathogenesis

Influenza viruses cause significant morbidity and mortality every year. Additionally, with the ability to exchange viral RNA segments between strains, the potential for the emergence of highly virulent pandemic strains remains ever-present. Our laboratory utilizes genetic platforms that allow for the manipulation of these viruses to ask questions about viral biology in a manner not previously possible. We are interested in a range of questions, from basic scientific questions such as how virus replication affects cellular signaling pathways, to translational studies such as developing systems to evaluate vaccination and antiviral therapeutic efficacy.

Currently, one of the major interests in the laboratory is the fate of cells after viral infection. Using a virus that expresses a DNA recombinase in conjunction with a transgenic reporter animal, we were able to identify a population of cells that survive acute viral infection. These cells are altered following clearance of the infection and maintain a highly inflammatory transcriptional profile and contribute to lung damage.

Our over-arching goal is to characterize the mechanisms of influenza virus mediated lung disease. By better understanding how disease is caused, we hope that we can uncover new ways by which intervention can take place. Our current work studying how cells survive and are changed by viral infection may eventually allow us to develop new approaches to combat excessive viral induced inflammation.