Dr Con Sonza has over 30 years’ experience in virology research, firstly working on characterisation of human rotavirus, on which he completed his PhD. He then spent more than 25 years working on HIV, with particular emphasis on persistent infection in primary target cells of the virus - monocytes, macrophages and CD4 T cells. His recent focus, in Professor Damian Purcell’s laboratory, has been latently infected, resting CD4 T cells, which is the major reservoir of virus in the body and target for a functional cure. In addition, he also works on the importance of the HIV Tat protein to the establishment and maintenance of latency. In 2016, he is returning to working on rotavirus infection with Associate Professor Barbara Coulson, specifically how the virus may accelerate the development of type 1 diabetes in susceptible children.
In the laboratory of Ian Holmes, co-discoverer of human rotavirus, Con was among the first to characterise epitopes of rotavirus, using specific antisera and monoclonal antibodies he developed, and their use in diagnosis and serotyping. His early work on HIV infection and persistence in cells of the macrophage lineage showed that a particular subset of monocytes harbour the virus in vivo and that virus persistence in macrophages is dependent on the Tat protein. He developed a PCR-based assay for detection of integrated HIV DNA, Alu-PCR, which still forms the basis of currently used methods. He has recently focussed on a novel translational mechanism of Tat production from chimeric cellular-HIV read-through transcripts expressed in latently infected resting CD4 T cells.
Professor Damian Purcell’s research group investigates the HIV-1 and HTLV-1 human retroviruses that cause AIDS and leukaemia/inflammatory pathogenesis respectively. The lab studies their genetic structure and gene expression with a focus on defining the mechanisms that control viral persistence and pathogenesis. The molecular interplay of viral and host factors during viral infection and the innate and adaptive immune responses to viral infection are examined. These molecular insights are used to develop new antiviral and curative therapeutics, preventive prophylactic vaccines and passive antibody microbicides and therapeutics. Some of these patented discoveries have been commercialised and we are assisting with clinical trials.
Barbara’s group uses the techniques of virology, immunology, biochemistry and molecular biology to understand at the cellular and molecular level how rotavirus infects host cells, and how rotavirus and other viruses affect the development of type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Gavan Holloway
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Assoc. Prof. Lijuan Yuan
Izabel Di Fiore
BSc (Hons) Student
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