Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis (BSc’94, PhD’98) and a team of researchers recently made two significant discoveries about the influenza virus.

Dr. Makrigiannis is head of Dal’s Department of Microbiology & Immunology. His team has been focusing on natural killer cells (NK). These cells are usually the first to detect infected cells and destroy them.

“Our Ottawa lab discovered new properties of NK cells that allow them to control influenza virus infection,” says Dr. Makrigiannis.

“We also found that influenza virus infection causes changes to the surface of infected cells, which prevent many of these NK cells from detecting them.”

How influenza hides

The department also discovered that the virus is capable of avoiding detection; it prevents infected cells from alerting the immune system, thereby slowing down the body’s response.

A leader in the field

These findings are helping cement Dal’s position as an emerging leader in flu research, and Dr. Makrigiannis believes there is more to come.

“As significant as these findings are, revealing the ways that the influenza virus can escape detection by our immune cells is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Makrigiannis.

“Now the major task is to understand how it can do this.”

Read more in “Dal’s flu fighters” on dal.ca.

Photo credit: Allison Gerrard