The National Institutes of Health has awarded Brown a five-year, $6 million grant to perform research that will determine how the JC virus attaches to host cells in the brain. Professor of Medical Science Walter Atwood, who has researched the virus since 1991, is leading the project along with researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Tubingen in Germany.
"The grant brings money into the local area," said Rahul Banerjee '10, who works in the lab with Atwood. "It promotes collaboration between labs and opens new facilities to Brown."
About 80 percent of the population has been exposed to the virus, but most people possess antibodies for the virus and their immune systems prevent it from causing damage, Banerjee said.
"The idea is to look at the surface of the virus now, and try to understand what parts of the virus interact with the receptors on the cell," Atwood said in a University press release.
Patients with compromised immune systems, including those with HIV/AIDS, are especially vulnerable and can develop a brain disorder if exposed to the virus, according to the press release. The brain disorder — known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy — causes victims to lose all brain function and cognitive ability, Banerjee said, adding that there is no vaccine or cure for the disease.
Atwood and his team will focus on how the JC virus gets into the brain and attacks neurons.
They are working with cell lines that are highly susceptible to the virus and are looking to find a means of slowing down the process by which PML develops, Banerjee said.