Student: Kody Waldstein, graduate student in Immunology, University of Iowa
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Steven Varga
Identifying how viral mutations differentially induce inflammation leading to severe disease
My research under Dr. Steven Varga seeks to identify how genetic variation in viruses elicits differential immune responses and causes severe disease. To date, I have identified small genetic variations in a complex respiratory virus that results in increased lung inflammation and the recruitment of pathogenic cells of the immune system. Through virus-induced immune dysregulation, the immune system, which normally clears infection and reduces disease, ultimately drives immunopathology and causes severe disease. Mechanistically, I have also identified the key host receptors involved and possible therapeutic targets to reduce disease symptoms. Though the ISS is considered a “clean” environment,
pathogens persist and thrive. This raises immediate concerns regarding respiratory pathogens through closed air recirculation and the close proximately of astronauts. My research directly applies to NASA’s Space Biology mission; specifically, how space flight alters cellular functions within the body and how it impacts the virulence, drug resistance, and rates of evolutionary change in pathogens. By understanding how genetic variation alters pathogens and impacts the immune response here on earth, we can shed light on and prepare for the infectious diseases that astronauts and future planetary space missions will inevitably face.