Tao Dong: Infectious diseases in China
Because of its population size, China is a major contributor to infectious disease worldwide. Large patient cohorts, well established infrastructure, and government funding make research in China accessible. In collaborating with hospitals in China, the aim is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the immunological mechanisms behind viral diseases.
Q: Why do we do research in China?
TD: As you know, China is big with a huge population size and so it is a major country builder for infectious diseases burden, worldwide. This including the newly emerged virus such as SARs and the influenza virus
This means China possesses a large and well-established patients cohort, which are important for the scientists to get reliable and high-quality data. Another important reason is the Chinese government is putting a lot of effort and funding to encourage international collaborations especially the top universities and institutes worldwide. It also has very well established hospital infrastructure and laboratory facilities - it is really good timing to do the research in China.
Q: What is your general field of your research?
TD: My research is mainly focused on antigen specific T-cells in human virus infections. Antigen-specific T-cell is one of the most important immune cells, white blood cells in our body. Responsible for eliminating the virus infected cells. So, the aim of my research is really to try to understand the immune correlation between virus infection and disease. For example, in the cohort patient we studied in China, HIV infected patient, and we found the patients who shared the T-cell related gene, generally do much better than patients that do not have this gene. And we also further worked out the potential reasons for the difference. So as, any other researchers in the department, our goal is really to work out the immunological mechanisms behind the disease and try to use the information in improved therapy and a vaccine.
Q: Can you tell us about your work on flu infection?
TD: My flu research is about finding out what kind of T-cell - antigen specific T-cells, are left in our body after acute influenza virus infection and if those cells we call it memory t-cells are good enough to protect us from a new infection especially viruses that are different from previous infections such as pandemic flu. In order to do this we are collaborating with the colleagues in Vietnam and China studying the healthy volunteers as well as the patients who have been infected with the AV influenza virus and the pandemic H1N1 virus. We want to work out what the difference is in their T-cells responses in those people who do not become sick after infection and compare with those ones who had very severe illness. We found actually a very interesting group of cells in our body could react to a broad range of the virus. This is very good news because those cells are like universal killers, they can eliminate different strains of virus including the pandemic.
Q: What will happen now? What are your new projects?
TD: I just started recently research on hepatitis – b virus infection in particular in the context of liver cancer development. As you may know, about one-third of world hepatitis b infected patients are in China. And this is the main virus that’s caused liver cancer and many people suffered from it. The hospital I have been collaborating with, in the past 8 years, one of the largest infectious diseases hospitals in China, and they look after thousands of Hep-B infected patients every year. The hospital just started developing an international programme during the last couple of years aiming to identify early diagnostic markers for liver cancer development, which is really needed. As one of the major international collaborators, our aim is to find out the immunological changes in those patients before the cancer is established and to find out the contribution to those changes to the liver cancer development.
Q: How does your research fit into translational medicine within the department?
TD: I am hoping in the future to have more scientists in the department involved in my collaborative research in China especially those working under cancer immunology. And by doing this, we are hoping to get a much better, comprehensive understanding of the immunological mechanism behind the disease. In that way will give us a better chance to find ways to combat the virus. I think this is also, what my colleagues in China want.