Dr Lars Dölken has taken up his post as a new Principal Investigator and Lecturer in Transfusion/Transplantation Virology within the NHSBT’s research programme based in the Department of Medicine. He is specialized in medical microbiology and will hold an Honorary Consultant post with NHSBT. Recently, he was awarded a highly competitive fellowship from the Medical Research Council for staff and equipment.
His research is focused on herpesviruses biology in general and cytomegaloviruses (CMV) in particular. CMV continues to be a problem for patients after stem cell or organ transplants and is the major cause of infective congenital birth defects affecting about 1:1,000 newborns. A hall mark of all herpesviruses is their ability to establish life-long virus persistence (termed latency) following primary infection. This poses the constant risk for virus reactivation and disease. During millions of years of co-evolution this virus has mastered host cell re-programming to ensure life-long virus persistence and efficient host-to-host spread while continuously evading a plethora of host defence mechanisms.
A few years ago small non-protein-coding RNA molecules termed ‘microRNAs’ were discovered to be encoded by many herpesviruses. These small regulatory RNA molecules appear to represent the most abundant viral gene products during viral latency indicating an important function in the establishment and maintenance of viral latency as well as reactivation thereof. A key goal of Dr Dölken research is to detail their function and the molecular mechanisms involved and test whether they can be utilized as readily accessible targets for novel antiviral agents.
In addition, his group at the Max von Pettenkofer-Institute in Germany has developed a powerful technique, termed ‘Dynamic Transcriptome Analysis’ (DTA), to monitor and study real-time changes in gene expression with superior resolution. This will now be employed to detail host-cell reprogramming during lytic and latent herpesvirus infections to provide a better understanding of the underlying regulatory mechanisms.