The Gern Laboratory Group is conducting several NIH-funded studies to define the role of viral infections in the initiation and disease activity of asthma, and to identify interactions between host and viral factors that determine the severity of respiratory illnesses. Dr. Gern is the Principal Investigator for the University of Wisconsin Asthma and Allergic Diseases Clinical Research Center (AADCRC). This is a collaborative program involving investigators in the Allergy/Immunology Division (Christine Seroogy, Yury Bochkov) and basic scientists (Ann Palmenberg, Institute of Molecular Virology; John Yin, Chemical & Biological Engineering) at the University of Wisconsin. There are three interrelated projects with the following goals: 1) To determine how environmental exposures in farm environments promote immune develop and reduce the risk of viral respiratory illnesses in early childhood, 2) To identify species-specific mechanisms of rhinovirus pathogenesis, and 3) to use novel microculture and imaging techniques to reveal how HRV replication in single cells stimulates immune responses and affects spread to neighboring cells.
The Gern Laboratory Group is also working on two birth cohort studies of asthma. As part of the Childhood Origins of Asthma (COAST) study, we are identifying new strains of rhinoviruses, and determining whether there are specific strains associated with more severe illnesses and acute asthma. In addition, Dr. Gern leads the Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) study for the Inner City Asthma Consortium. The goal of this birth cohort study is to identify lifestyle and environmental factors (including viral infections) unique to the urban environment that influence early immune development to increase the risks for allergic diseases and asthma.
Finally, the laboratory is participating in collaborative research projects to define mechanisms for viral respiratory infections to cause long-lived abnormalities of airway structure and function, to identify rhinovirus-induced inflammatory mechanisms involving airway epithelial cells, and is developing a new recombinant strain of rhinovirus for use in experimental inoculation studies of volunteers to investigate rhinovirus pathogenesis.