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Q&A with IIDR Summer Fellowship Recipient Zafrin Islam

Zafrin Islam is one of 10 IIDR trainees to have received the Institute’s prestigious Summer Fellowship Award. The highly competitive fellowship, now in its fourth year and worth $1,000, is designed to support students working in the labs of IIDR members during their summer practicum, which runs from May to August.

Whose lab are you working in and what drew you to their research?

Currently, I am working in Dr. Karen Mossman’s lab. My fascination with viruses is what drew me to her research. In the short-term, viruses can be very destructive. However, in the long run, viruses are important for generating diversity. They have all this potential to help or damage organisms, but on their own they can’t survive. It’s amazing how dependent they are on their host, and I’m really interested in understanding how viruses manipulate the host to ensure survival. Virus-host interactions are exactly what the Mossman Lab investigates.

Describe your research project

I’m working on a collaborative project that seeks to understand how a particular protein found in herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV-1), called infected cell protein 0, or ICP0, interacts inside the cell.

Right now we know that ICP0 is needed for efficient replication of HSV-1 in the cell, as well as for reactivation from latency. (It’s not an essential protein, but without it virus replication and reactivation is attenuated.)

Initially, it was thought that ICPO functions only in the nucleus, and is dependent on its ubiquitin ligase activity, which is mediated by the RING finger domain of the protein. But recent research has shown that ICP0 actually functions in the cytoplasm of the cell as well, and the RING finger domain of the protein is used for more than just targeting proteins for degradation.

What are the real world applications of your research?

Our research will provide insight into fundamental host response pathways. And in the long-term, we hope it will lead to a greater understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying disease progression or prevention. Additionally, understanding nature and mechanism of virus-host interactions is essential for the development of antiviral therapies and virus-based immunotherapies.

What do you hope to accomplish during your fellowship?

I hope to develop my skills in molecular virology techniques. Also, I want to gain a greater understanding of how viruses are able to function within the host; how they activate specific pathways; and what impact all of this has on the host. Most importantly, I hope to discover new things about virus-host interactions and what role ICP0 plays inside the cell.

How will this fellowship allow you to do this?

This fellowship has motivated me to ensure that the research I’m doing in the Mossman Lab is meaningful. Moreover, it provides me with an additional source of funding, should I need special reagents or equipment to complete my work.

What is your end goal, in terms of a career?

After completing my undergraduate degree, I will pursue graduate studies in the field of infectious diseases. Ultimately, I hope to land a research position in the industry, perhaps with a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company.