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. More recently, in Professor Damian Purcell’s laboratory, he focussed on 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 worked on the importance of the HIV Tat protein to the establishment and maintenance of latency. From 2016 to 2019, he returned to working on rotavirus infection with Associate Professor Barbara Coulson, specifically on how the virus may accelerate the development of type 1 diabetes in susceptible children, using the NOD mouse model of diabetes.
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. At the Department of Microbiology and Immunology he focussed on a novel translational mechanism of Tat production from chimeric cellular-HIV read-through transcripts expressed in latently infected resting CD4 T cells. His recent work on rotavirus and diabetes has supported previous work in the Coulson laboratory with NOD mice on the possible mechanism for diabetes acceleration in children and he has begun to explore this mechanism using samples from pre-diabetic and diabetic children.
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