The Kenney Lab focus is on understanding how (mostly) positive stranded RNA viruses interact with their hosts using viral infectious clones and reverse genetic systems. Currently, we work on hepatitis E virus (HEV), porcine deltacoronavirus (PDCoV), African swine fever virus, and turkey reovirus. We have additional interests in establishing animal models for human disease and high containment pathogen research.
Our primary focus is hepatitis E virus, a positive-sense RNA virus that is one of the leading causes of acute viral hepatitis worldwide. HEV is endemic to developing countries where poor sanitation enhances the fecal oral transmission of the virus. Typically, healthy individuals recover from HEV infections but in pregnant women the mortality rate can reach 25 percent. HEV is also recognized as a zoonotic disease and can be transmitted from animals to humans in developed countries. Currently, there are 4 genotypes of HEV of human importance; genotypes 1 and 2 solely infect humans and genotype 3 and 4 infect animals (pigs, rabbits, deer) and humans. We are interested in determinants that allow for cross species transmission and pathogenesis of HEV and in the development of animal model systems to understand HEV pathology in the host. Being difficult to propagate in cell culture has led to knowledge of many aspects of the viral lifecycle lagging behind better studied viruses. Recently, a cell culture adapted strain of genotype 3 HEV was discovered from a chronically shedding patient. This virus picked up the human ribosomal protein S17 as part of its genome. We are utilizing this virus strain to understand both how S17 is contributing to virus replication and host range and to characterize HEV-host interactions.
In addition to HEV, we work on swine diseases including African swine fever virus (ASFV). ASFV is a foreign animal disease posing a huge risk to American producers should it emerge in the United States, it would cost producers billions of dollars. We leverage our large animal biosafety 3 facility to test vaccine candidates for efficacy against ASFV. More recently our research concerns cross species transmission of PDCoV. In collaboration with Dr. Bosch at Utrecht University, we showed PDCoV utilizes a conserved domain on the host protein aminopeptidaseN to enter cells from a wide variety of species. We followed up those studies by showing PDCoV can indeed infect commercial poultry. We are currently pursuing studies on PDCoV as both an agricultural and zoonotic health threat. We are utilizing high throughput genetic techniques such as next generation sequencing, and genomic CRISPR knockout to understand host determinants for cross-species virus transmission.
Finally, we are utilizing specific pathogen free turkeys to understand factors associated with newly emerged strains of turkey arthritis reovirus and how the host microbiome may mitigate disease associated with this virus.
Areas of Expertise
- Molecular Virology
- Emerging Infectious Diseases
- Vaccine Development
- Hepatitis E Virus
- Porcine Diseases
- Reverse Genetic Systems