Influenza virus is a small virus with a negative stranded segmented RNA genome that causes infections of the respiratory tract in many species, commonly known as the flu. Yearly influenza virus outbreaks kill 20,000 - 40,000 people/year in the US alone. Continuing outbreaks of a highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus strain in Asia and Europe, first reported in 1998 and the latest influenza virus pandemic caused by the emergence of a new pandemic H1N1 influenza A virus in 2009, provide chilling reminders of the dangers posed by the emergence of new influenza virus strains. While currently available vaccines are broadly protective, the ever-changing nature of the circulating influenza virus strains make it necessary to generate new vaccines every year. Investigators at the Center for Comparative Medicine use mice and non-human primate models of influenza virus infection to study the regulation of innate and adaptive immune responses to the virus and to test various vaccine modalities for protective effects.
Dr. C. Miller studies the innate immune factors induced and regulated by influenza virus infection in the rhesus macaque model of infection and tests various vaccine candidates and novel approaches for their effects on antiviral immunity. Dr. Baumgarth studies the effects of innate cytokines and other triggers on the regulation of protective B cell and antibody responses in the respiratory tract, using the mouse model of infection. Dr. Baumgarth collaborates with Drs. Frances Lund, Troy Randall and Allan Zajac at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and Drs. Inaki Sanz and Eun Hyung Lee at Emory University, to identify mechanisms of cell-mediated antiviral immunity in mice, non-human primates and in humans. She also serves as a consultant to the NIH-supported "Influenza Research Database" a global public database and analysis resource for the study of influenza viruses.