How can something so small like a microbe or a mutated cell cause such devastating effects?
Assumption Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Aisling Dugan combines cell biology, molecular biology and genetic biology to answer this question.
“Observing microbial infection or cancer cells as bad guys versus the defenses of the good guys has always been a model that made sense to me,” says Professor Dugan, “The goal is clear: understand these processes at the cellular level and gain insight on how to treat and cure diseases.”
“If we understand what host cell events control or block infection naturally, we can devise therapeutic approaches to augment these processes,” she explained.
Dugan’s current research is on the BK virus (BKV), a viral pathogen found in approximately 85 percent of humans. It was isolated and identified in 1971 first, but the virus has been evolving and living within people for at least 10,000 years. BKV resides in kidney and urinary tissue. While it is harmless most of the time, it can cause kidney disease and organ loss in a subset of transplant recipients whose immune systems are suppressed due to medication.
Working with bachelor’s in biology students Stephanie Bouley and Anne Bara, Dugan recently published a paper in the journal Virology.
This manuscript describes the host cell process called autophagy, a normal process when a cell degrades its own internal organelles, which allows the cells to break down large molecules and to shuttle these molecules to cell processes that are more critical. Autophagy can be activated or deactivated when a cell is challenged by a pathogen.