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Training network providing cutting-EDGE knowlEDGE on Herpes Virology and Immunology

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EDGE (Training network providing cutting-EDGE knowlEDGE on Herpes Virology and Immunology)

Reporting period: 2016-05-01 to 2018-04-30

Herpesviruses are major pathogenic viruses that can give rise to severe diseases especially in children, immunocompromised individuals, and elderly. Many individuals harbour several latent herpesvirus infections, potentially reactivated by different stimuli to cause disease. The various Herpes viruses can infect neurons, and cause blinding keratitis, encephalitis as well as painful skin infections, notably herpes zoster. Some types are further known to induce multiple tumours or to increase the susceptibility to HIV infection. Due to the lack of satisfactory efficacy of anti-herpesvirus drugs, there is an urgent need for the development of new therapeutics against these viruses. Yet mechanistic insights are still limited, and thus there is a need for in-depth understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of herpesvirus diseases at the individualised level. With the recent expansion in knowledge on the contribution of the immune responses to both antiviral defence and the pathology of herpesvirus infections, there are novel and currently untapped opportunities to develop new drugs and treatments.
The research team behind the Innovative Training Network, providing cutting-EDGE knowlEDGE on herpes virology and immunology (EDGE), postulates that the gap between mechanistic knowledge and a more successful treatment of herpesvirus infections could be narrowed by educating and training a new generation of scientists (early career researchers: ESRs). The training is aimed to cover a broad range of fields, from basic academic science, over clinical disease mechanisms, to the biomedical industry. EDGE’s main objective is thus the production future-oriented cutting-edge research on herpes virology and immunology. Within an Innovative Training Network, the prime approach to achieve this goal is a comprehensive training programme for Early Career Researchers who shall develop their network and transport their skills into their future careers in academia, hospital, and industry, well beyond times after the completion of EDGE. For this purpose, leading European academic research groups in herpes virology and immunology have teamed up with non-academic partners from closely related fields.
The first part of the EDGE program has aimed at initiating 15 interactive research projects on herpes virology and immunology. At the same time, the ESRs have been through a training programme to acquire skills on research and innovation, and also to prepare them for communication with the surrounding society, ranging from layman to stake holders in the private biotech sector. We believe the scientific work is progressing in a positive manner, and that a number of very interesting results have been obtained. For instance, we have completed (i) the whole-exome sequencing of patients with severe herpesvirus infections, (ii) the screens for immunomodulatory functions of two herpesviruses, (ii) the mapping of the virus-host interactome for varicella zoster virus, and (iv) the in vivo characterization of infection phenotypes in mice deficient in immunological DNA sensing. This has led to a number of publications already, and has also resulted in one patent, and the establishment of a startup-company. In addition, the clinical work has already led to new knowledge that is now used in genetic diagnostics of individuals susceptible to severe herpesvirus infections.
In the remaining time of the project, we will build on the promising results obtained so far. We will complete the 15 sub-projects, aiming at publishing 20-30 peer-reviewed articles in high ranked scientific journals. This second part of the project will also include further integration of the projects and different research areas involved in EDGE. We expect the scientific work of EDGE will lead to fundamental new understanding of how herpesviruses infected (i) target cells, (ii) are detected by the immune system, and (iii) manipulate the immune system to allow establishment and maintenance of infection. In addition, we believe that this new knowledge will have direct impact on clinical practice during severe herpesvirus infections, and also will promote the development of vaccine candidates to be tested in clinical trials. Most importantly, in the remaining part of the funding period, we will continue the training of the ESRs, including extensive inter-sector interactions, and the accumulation of transferable skills. This will eventually lead to education of 15 PhDs with a strong set of core skills in virology and immunology, and with the unique ability to work in a highly integrative manner at the cutting-edge of biomedical research, innovation, and medicine.
EDGE mid-term review 2018