The Unit of Virology of the Department of Biomedical Sciences performs basic and translational research on HIV and (re)emerging tropical viruses.
ITM has a longstanding tradition in tropical and cosmopolitan virus research. The Unit of Virology was home to the discovery of Ebola virus in 1976 and consequently the research focus was on Hemorrhagic Fever Viruses (filoviruses, Hanta). Since the mid 1980’s, the Unit of Virology has built a strong portfolio on HIV research: from molecular epidemiology to neutralizing antibodies, from sexual transmission and prevention by topical microbicides to HIV immunotherapy and cure. The search for a functional HIV cure has been a major research focus during the past 10 years and is framed in several ongoing international collaborations with partners in the Netherlands and Spain.
Since 2014, the Unit of Virology is gradually expanding its research portfolio on (re)emerging tropical viruses with a particular interest in arthropod-borne virus-host-vector molecular interactions, the development of new diagnostics and antivirals, and virus discovery. In this context, the Unit is part of the National Reference Center (NRC) for Tropical Infectious Diseases (including Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers) and the NRC Arboviruses to support molecular virus diagnostics and serological diagnosis with virus neutralization assays. In collaboration with industry, the Unit is currently developing new diagnostic tools for the simultaneous detection of a large number of arboviruses and hemorrhagic fever viruses. The Unit is running collaborative projects in DR Congo, Peru and Cuba to look at arbovirus prevalence, the development and evaluation of new diagnostic tests and Dengue virus - host interactions.
Kevin Ariën is the head of the Unit of Virology since June 2014.
- The Unit contributes to a functional HIV cure through research on mechanisms and correlates of protection against HIV disease progression and actively contributes to phase I/II therapeutic vaccine trials in large international consortia.
- A new line of research concentrates on the molecular interactions of arboviruses, their vectors and hosts. The (re)emerging Chikungunya virus is used as a model for alphaviruses.
- The development of new diagnostics for the simultaneous detection of a wide variety of arboviruses and hemorrhagic fever viruses, including Ebola. This new technology can also be used for surveillance studies in resource-limited settings.
- Laboratory support for clinical diagnostics (molecular testing, sequencing, virus neutralization tests).