Unravelling RNA Viruses
Viruses of the Flaviviridae family—such as hepatitis C and the mosquito-borne dengue and Zika viruses—represent a significant threat to global health. Hepatitis C is a chronic disease that affects more than 170 million people globally, including 268,000 Canadians. Meanwhile, dengue and Zika represent an even larger problem, with 2.5 billion people at risk worldwide. While the dengue and Zika viruses typically lead to mild flu-like illnesses, they have been increasingly associated with more severe neurological illnesses.
Dr. Selena Sagan, Canada Research Chair in RNA Biology and Viral Infections, is working toward understanding the interactions between ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses and their hosts, in particular those interactions that influence how viruses replicate and diseases develop.
RNA viruses—viruses whose genomes are comprised of ribonucleic acid—rely on their genomes as a blueprint for infection. The viral genome must encode all the information needed to make viral proteins, copy the genome and reproduce. To do this, the genome itself must be a dynamic structure that can unwind, elongate and expose regions of the viral RNA to both host and viral proteins that facilitate infection. However, how viruses regulate and coordinate these activities with just a single piece of RNA remains a mystery.
Sagan and her research team are dissecting the mechanisms by which RNA viruses regulate these events to cause disease. Their research will further our understanding of RNA virus replication and may lead to new treatments for these diseases.