Virus-Host Interactions (ViHIT)


Principal Investigator: Ester Ballana Guix


The study of immune response to retroviruses has established new roles for nucleic acid metabolism in immune control, providing also new insights into the mechanisms of immune tolerance. Our research focuses on the definition of cellular mechanisms controlling the interface between nucleic acid metabolism and its detection by the immune system and how these processes influence onset and treatment of human diseases.

Our group is currently working on two main research lines:

1. Cellular and molecular bases of immune induction against chronic viral infections. Viruses often exploit common cellular pathways and processes to successfully replicate inside host cells. Our research focuses on the in-depth characterization of innate immune function as a strategy to develop novel broad-spectrum therapeutics. We have described the regulatory pathways and antiviral immune response of 2 key enzymes in nucleotide metabolism: SAMHD1, responsible for the degradation of deoxynucleotide triphosphates, and ADAR1, responsible for editing adenosines to inosines in double-stranded RNA. We have also identified agents capable of modifying their enzymatic activity either directly or indirectly through cell cycle regulation, leading to the description of novel regulatory pathways controlling HIV latency. Our research includes all stages of development, ranging from identification and validation of new targets to the monitoring of drugs approved for treatment. Once validated, these cellular factors potentially become targets for the development of new antiviral therapies.

Since April 2020, our group has also focused on understanding SARS-CoV-2 infection and its associated pathogenesis. A method for the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 viral load in COVID-19 patients has been developed. Ongoing work is focused on elucidating the role of the innate immune response in COVID-19 pathogenesis and deciphering and characterizing early events that might determine infection outcomes, with particular interest in cellular proteins that might be important for the development of new therapeutic strategies against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

2. Immune function as a biomarker of response to cancer treatment. The mechanisms that control the interface between the metabolism of nucleic acids and their detection by the immune system determine also the onset and treatment of cancer. We described the effect of SAMHD1 on therapeutic efficacy of antimetabolites used for cancer treatment, both in vitro and in vivo, resulting in the description of SAMHD1 as an effective prognostic and predictive factor. On the other hand, as a result of our discovery of CDK-mediated regulation of SAMHD1 function, we set up a prospective study to determine the role of immune function in treatment response to CDK4/6 inhibitors. Within this framework, a new multidisciplinary research group including medical oncologists, pathologists and translational researchers at distinct career stages has been created, expanding its impact towards a better understanding of immune function in cancer. Currently we are interested in unravelling the range of systemic immune perturbations that occur during tumor development as well as the crucial contribution of peripheral immune cells to antitumor immune response, based on the expertise gained in the context of viral infections.  

Keywords: pathogenesis, immunity, antiviral response, antiviral, resistance, cure
Principal Investigator

Ester Ballana Guix

Dr. Ester Ballana graduated in Biology from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) in 2001 and obtained her PhD in Health and Life Sciences from Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG)- Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in 2007. Her scientific and professional career has been focused on the study of...


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Irsi Caixa

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