The Center for Infectious Disease conducts fundamental research on how the body successfully reacts to vaccines and battles infections and conversely, how infectious pathogens escape immune surveillance.
Modern medicine has made tremendous strides in fighting infectious diseases, but there is much more work to be done. Every year, influenza strikes millions of people, many of them fatally. Whooping cough and measles have made a comeback as the number people who refuse to vaccinate their children grows. One third of the world’s population is infected with latent tuberculosis. Without treatment, about 5 to 10% of infected people will develop TB disease at some time in their lives.
Meanwhile, tropical diseases such as dengue fever and malaria are spreading. Aided by increasing globalization in commerce and travel as well as climate change dengue virus has reached Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Florida.
“Fighting an emerging disease like dengue requires a thorough understanding of its underlying infectious mechanisms,” says Sujan Shresta, an LJI researcher in the Center for Infectious Disease and a world authority on the dengue virus.
“La Jolla Institute is at the cutting edge of understanding how the dengue virus interacts with the immune system, and it’s generating the data needed to eventually develop lifesaving treatments, whether they’re vaccines, prophylactic drugs or injectable drugs for patients.”
Dr. Shresta collaborates with numerous colleagues at LJI to map how T cells, a type of white blood cell, respond to the dengue virus in humans and in mouse models, to study how the T cell and antibody response is regulated, how the virus evolves in mouse models in the presence of antiviral drug candidates, and how immune cells called macrophages respond to the dengue virus. “All these collaborations highlight my approach toward understanding the dance between the virus and the immune system,” Dr. Shresta says.
Immune Epitope Database
A national leader in infectious disease research, LJI is also home to the Immune Epitope Database, the world’s largest collection of data on how the body responds, at the molecular level, to infectious and autoimmune diseases. It’s a vital global resource as scientists search for new vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases.
“We must remain continually vigilant,” says Alessandro Sette, a prominent researcher at LJI and co-lead of the Immune Epitope Database. “There are always going to be newly emerging pathogens, as well as old ones that mutate and produce new drug-resistant strains. We must work to stay one step ahead of these dangerous agents.”