ERC Advanced Grant for viral traitors

Good news: Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff and his team will receive 2.3 million euros from the European Research Council for uncovering antiviral defense mechanisms.

Viruses hijack cells to propagate – but these are not defenseless. Numerous cellular proteins protect us from getting infected or seriously ill. So far, many of them remain to be discovered. A team including CRC 1279 spokesperson Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchhoff, project leader Dr. Konstantin Sparrer and their PhD students Caterina Prelli Bozzo and Alexandre Laliberté wants to change this - by exploiting HIV-1, a highly successful virus.

Pandemic viruses know how to overcome the immune system. The scientists will equip those and their less successful relatives with specific gene scissors allowing them to counteract their cellular opponents but at the same time reveal who these are. “Thus, we turn them into 'traitor viruses' that tell us which endogenous proteins inhibit their replication and spread,” Prelli Bozzo and Laliberté explain. When the researchers know which proteins and mechanisms are most important, they want to exploit them for the development of new preventive and therapeutic approaches.

The project called “Traitor-virus-guided discovery of novel antiviral factors” was recently funded by the European Research Council (ERC) with 2.3 million euros over a period of five years. This is actually the second ERC grant for Kirchhoff. The first one was awarded him in 2012, for exploring which adaptations to humans made pandemic HIV-1 group M strains so successful. Only researchers with more than 10 years of experience, playing a key role in their field are eligible for an “Advanced Grant”. “Without the committed and productive team, all this would not have been possible”, Kirchhoff says.


Prof. Frank Kirchhoff (Foto: Elvira Eberhardt)