Research @ the Saelens Group

“We are developing novel vaccines and antivirals against respiratory viruses such as influenza and RSV. ”

Human influenza is a contagious disease caused by influenza A or B viruses. Influenza is characterized by high morbidity and considerable mortality especially among the elderly and certain risk groups. Influenza A viruses circulate in several animal species and create problems, in terms of animal welfare, but also as a reservoir of new genes for humans influenza A viruses. Influenza is a vaccine-preventable disease and a few small molecule antiviral drugs are available.

One important aim of our research is to develop novel vaccines and antivirals against influenza. For this we focus on the influenza A virus M2 protein and on the viral neuraminidase. We are particularly interested in the protective mechanisms of action of such novel influenza vaccines. We study how interferon induced Mx1 counteracts influenza viruses. We are also pursuing a new approach to develop a cross-protective vaccine against influenza B virus and are developing novel antibody-based therapeutics against influenza viruses.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most important cause of acute lower respiratory tract infection in very young children and is also considered a very important pathogen for the elderly. In the very young (from birth until the age of two years), the virus can cause severe respiratory tract disease characterized by bronchiolitis (inflammation of the bronchioles), pneumonia, and apnea (temporary cessation of breathing). There is no vaccine and only one specific antiviral drug against RSV and supportive treatment is the only medical option for RSV-infected patients. Therefore, our group is developing novel vaccines and therapeutic agents to prevent and treat disease caused by RSV infection.

Junin virus, finally, is an Arenavirus that causes Argentine Haemorrhagic Fever, a disease that is often fatal in human. We are developing novel antivirals against this virus.