Marc Johnson began his research career studying a rabies-like virus in fish. “Working with fish viruses is really cool research,” he notes, but there are just not a lot of people doing it,” and that sense of isolation was eventually too much. In search of collaboration and community, Johnson switched from fish viruses to HIV. Since then, the assistant professor in MU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology has dedicated his research efforts to the study of these related humans viruses. He and his collaborators have made great progress in understanding how the HIV virus works in order to develop new therapeutics to combat the disease.
Ever since Enos Inniss came to MU as an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering a short time ago, he has kept remarkably busy on various research projects involving water quality and safety.
In a back corner of the University of Missouri’s medical building, a few floors above the hospital and tucked away to the right, Habib Zaghouani watches a cellular war. He has been up there for seven years, with an army of graduate students and a colony of mice, trying to understand why our bodies attack us and how we can make them stop.
While scientists have developed ways to treat HIV, they have yet to develop a cure for the devastating disease because they have not been able to kill every last infected cell. “HIV has our immune system’s ‘number.’ Our immune system cannot figure out that those are infected cells and that it needs to kill them.” The protein responsible for HIV virus replication is the Gag protein. Much of Johnson’s current work is focused on understanding how Gag orchestrates this replication, as this knowledge could be used to uncover a treatment capable of triggering the immune system’s response.
Although the word “virus” has become a part of the everyday vernacular–what exactly is a retrovirus? Marc Johnson says viruses can be grouped into RNA viruses and DNA viruses. RNA viruses cause short-term diseases such as the flu and the common cold, whereas DNA viruses cause more long-term illnesses like herpes or cancer. “Retroviruses are a unique blend,” he explains. “They are like a DNA virus that can replicate with RNA strategies.” HIV is a retrovirus.
Lorson and his lab team are looking at SMA from two distinct yet related directions. First, they are trying to determine what causes SMA, and second, they want to develop gene therapy programs to replace the SMA-causing gene. This research is done in collaboration with several drug and biotech companies.
In the United States, chemicals like chlorine are used to disinfect drinking water. While these chemicals are highly successful in killing waterborne diseases, some negative by-products are left behind in the water. “We are trying to find a balance between adding that disinfectant to our water and then having to deal with some of the other things that may happen as a result,” Inniss explains.
Zaghouani’s third project has had great success. Cara Haymaker, who is in charge of this research program, reports that they have identified a successful treatment for experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, a disease affecting mice that is very similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. So far, the research team has been able to completely reverse the disease in mice with two forms of treatment.
Since October of 2006, Carver has been developing Booby Prize, a comedy about the unfunny subject of breast cancer. “It’s a one-woman show featuring me [laughs],” and how she was “lucky” to be the one of every seven women to get the disease. Through Booby Prize, which is ever evolving, Carver is able to combine her interest in social activism, women’s health, and autobiography: “I decided that I could have breast cancer and still have a sense of humor, and still do my work. And so that’s when Booby Prize, you know, became born, the idea that—unfortunately—I won the prize. I won the Booby Prize, which you don’t want to win, you don’t want to be the 1 out of 7 who wins, but I won, and so that’s how I start off the performance.” Much of the performance features Carver performing actual stories that happened to her, infusing humor into the reality of her situation. At the conclusion of Booby Prize, Carver warns the audience against expecting closure and a happy ending. Despite the clean bill of health at her last medical checkup, the possibility of cancer returning lingers on, and so Carver reminds the audience, “I don’t have a pretty ending; my ending is still up in the air.” Among audience members, Carver has observed not only laughter and tears, as might be expected, but “people doing both at the same time, and not quite knowing what to do about it.” The thread that runs through Booby Prize—like Carver’s other scholarly and creative projects—is storytelling. Some of the stories are painful, and some are funny. Either way, Carver always tries “to keep it raw.”
“Googling” for visual phenotypes in plants to examine for mutations or disease.