Professor Jurriaan Huskens of University of Twente research institute MESA+ has been awarded two grants with a collective value of one million euros for two fundamental research projects into the influenza virus. The aim of the research projects is to provide insights into which strains of the influenza virus can easily pass from animals to humans. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded UT a TOP grant worth €780,000 and VolkswagenStiftung has made available funding for the amount of €225,000.
The influenza virus is very common and claims hundreds of thousands of human lives every year. The influenza virus is not one virus that is always the same; there are many strains, in both humans and animals. In some cases a virus can pass from animals to humans, such as in the case of the bird flu virus H5N1 that has claimed human victims for over ten years.
Huskens research projects will hopefully allow us to understand how some viruses can pass from animals to humans more easily than others. A virus can only infect an organism if it is able to attach itself to the organism’s cell membrane. This occurs through multi-component bonding. In this process, multiple proteins (that are on the outside of the virus) attach themselves to sugars in the host’s cell membrane at the same time.
As part of these two research projects, Huskens will create artificial cell surfaces, varying the amount of sugars per unit area. These can be used to gain more insight into which influenza viruses have a greater chance of becoming dangerous to humans.
In both research projects, researchers from the department of Molecular Nanofabrication at UT research institute MESA+ will be working together closely with researchers from the Research Centre for Emerging Infections and Zoonoses (RIZ) of the Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo).