“SPARK funding will allow me to apply cutting-edge spatial genomic technology to identify key molecules that protect bats from illness caused by devastating viral infections. These molecules have the potential to offer universal protection in humans against multiple classes of viral pathogens such as Ebola, Nipah, and SARS-CoV2.”
How do bats tolerate viral infections that are otherwise fatal in humans?
While bats play an essential role in our ecosystem, they also carry deadly viruses like Ebola, SARS-CoV2, and others with pandemic potential. These viruses can infect bats without causing any damage to them. However, when these viruses jump to humans, they can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. Learning how bats control and tolerate viral infections can help protect patients against similar viruses. This project will focus on the Ebola virus, which has led to more than twenty devastating disease outbreaks—with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent in humans.
Both humans and bats control virus infection via two lines of defense: the first happens within hours as virus-infected cells quickly detect foreign molecules from the virus and send out warning signals to alert the host that a virus is invading; the second line takes days to weeks to activate immune cells and antibodies that target the invading virus for elimination.
I hypothesize that bats can outperform humans in restricting viral infection in the first line of immune defense to avoid illness. Using cutting-edge imaging technology, I will “see” how Ebola viral proteins “capture” the alert signals sent out from infected cells. I will test my hypothesis by comparing efficiency of immune activation in bats versus human cells.