The Department of Infectious Diseases at The Scripps Research Institute is dedicated to understanding, preventing, and treating transmissible diseases, especially those that are significant public health concerns. Our growing faculty studies a range of pathogens, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1), hepatitis C virus (HCV), influenza A virus, SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), flaviviruses such as dengue and West Nile viruses, and arenaviruses such as Lassa and Junin viruses. We also study protein infectious agents including those that cause prion diseases, and we investigate the host innate and adaptive immune responses that help to combat microbial pathogens.
Our goals are treatments and cures, but to achieve these goals we know that we must deepen our mechanistic understanding of pathogens and especially the way those pathogens interact with their hosts. We have identified and are investigating a number of host factors essential to specific pathogens, for example TPST1 and 2 (for HIV-1), cathepsin L and ACE2 (for SARS-CoV), tranferrin receptor 1 and iron regulatory proteins (for New World arenaviruses), and the TIM family of phosphatidyl serine receptors (for various viruses). We also have identified proteins that protect potential hosts from infection, for example N91-eIF3f, which impairs splicing of HIV-1 mRNA, and the IFTIM family proteins, which prevent influenza A virus and dengue virus, among others, from traversing the cell membrane.
The aims of the Department are complementary with the exceptional scientific resources and technologies available at Scripps’ La Jolla and Jupiter campuses. These include world-class chemistry and structural biology departments and state-of-the-art facilities for proteomics, genomics, and high-throughput screening. For example, the RNAi screening facility has helped our faculty identify new host-cell targets for HCV, and the small molecule screening center supports our efforts to identify compounds that target critical HCV enzymes, and the entry process of the influenza A and dengue viruses. Scripps chemists work with Infectious Diseases faculty to improve anti-HIV-1 small molecules that target viral transcription. We also are exploring alternative approaches to treating HIV-1 and preventing its transmission, for example using established gene therapy vectors to deliver antibodies isolated by Scripps laboratories, and modifying those vectors so that they can be used safely in uninfected individuals.
These discoveries are just the beginning. With more mechanistic insight into the pathogenesis of microbes, with deeper understanding of our own defenses, and with the expertise of our collaborators at TSRI and elsewhere, we will help to reduce the burden of infectious diseases.