The primary purpose of a University of California (UC) Organized Research Unit (ORU) is to foster scholarship, training and research across many disciplines represented on a single UC campus. The overall goal of the Center for Virus Research (CVR) ORU at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) campus is to develop interdisciplinary collaborations and studies founded in molecular virology. The CVR provides both the administrative infrastructure as well as training and common facilities needed for this type of investigation.
Research on viruses has provided a framework of biological and technological knowledge from which a more complete understanding of basic molecular processes of organisms has been constructed. Consequently, the concepts comprising the very foundations of both molecular biology and bioengineering owe much to virus research. The study of viruses continues to sharpen our comprehension of biological processes of living systems, in states of both health and disease, not only at the molecular and cellular level, but at the level of whole organisms and their populations as well. Investigations of and with viruses have long provided some of the most useful experimental models for pathogenesis, carcinogenesis, immunity and regulation of gene expression. In addition, viral-based technology is being vigorously pursued and developed in the context of gene therapy, thereby teaching us much about the control of cellular processes.
With the growing worldwide threat imposed by emerging viruses, interest in virus research at all levels has intensified and taken on a new global perspective; thus, there is a need at the international level to become more knowledgeable about viruses and viral diseases. As a consequence, previously separate disciplines such as molecular biology, evolutionary biology, immunology, pathogenesis, neurology, biochemistry, structural biology, proteomics and biomedical engineering can now be readily linked by virus research. Such integrated research pathways provide the highly interdisciplinary character to the Center for Virus Research at UCI.
The CVR is currently under the Directorship of Bert L. Semler, Professor in the Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics. From the year 2000, when the CVR officially gained ORU status, until 2010, Professor Luis P. Villarreal of the Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry served as the Director of the CVR (please see History page).
An external advisory committee, composed of three senior virologists from other UC Campuses (Professor Irvin Chen, UC Los Angeles; Professor Charles E. Samuel, UC Santa Barbara and Professor Deborah H. Spector, UC San Diego) advises the Director. In addition, an internal oversight committee chaired by Michael J. Buchmeier, Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry works with the Director to develop policy. The CVR reports to James W. Hicks, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research at UCI.
The CVR sponsors a semi-monthly seminar series that features research presentations by prominent scientists from national or international institutions outside of UCI. The topics of these seminars are broadly related to virology and reflect the many different research interests of the virology research community at UCI.
The training program in Virology recruits PhD graduate students into the laboratories of the CVR faculty through the Cellular and Molecular Biosciences (CMB) Graduate Program. There are currently more than 30 predoctoral graduate students in the laboratories of the 16 CVR faculty members. Our CVR training program is augmented by support from an NIH T32 training grant that supports PhD students in the laboratories of individual CVR members. This grant is administered by the CVR and is currently in its 23rd year of continuous funding. One important activity of the virology training grant that is organized by the CVR is an annual “NIH Virology Training Grant Symposium.” This symposium provides a forum for all of the Virology Training Grant trainees to present 20-minute talks about their ongoing thesis research to the entire virology community at UCI. The symposium provides a significant opportunity to highlight the high quality of the virology trainees and their research projects to a broad audience of UCI researchers.
As part of our training and teaching activities, CVR faculty members teach three virology courses for our graduate students, as listed below.
Mol Bio 205: Topics in Viral Gene Expression
M&MG 222: Molecular Pathogenesis of Viral Infections
Mol Bio 201C: Virology Journal Club
The CVR, under the auspices of the UCI Office of Research, oversees a BSL2+ facility that is used for handling of viral pathogens and the generation of viral vectors for gene delivery and gene therapy research. This facility is available to other qualified UCI researchers on a recharge basis. Although not under CVR administration, it should be noted that another research facility (BSL3) is under the direction of the Associate Director of the CVR, Professor Michael Buchmeier, who is also the Associate Director for the Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence (PSW RCE). The CVR also administers the recharge activity for the mass spectrometry facility that is supervised by Professor Paul Gershon. Although many of Professor Gershon’s mass spectrometry activities are carried out as collaborations, some investigators on campus prefer to use this facility on a fee-for-service basis.
Due to its organization as a single-campus research unit, all CVR members are faculty of the UC, Irvine campus only. However, the CVR administrates a UC Multi-campus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI) collaboration known as the California Center for Antiviral Drug Discovery (CCADD), which is under the Directorship of Professor Thomas Poulos, of the Departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Pharmaceutical Sciences here at UCI. Many other CVR faculty are members of CCADD, which also includes faculty from UC, San Francisco and UC, Los Angeles.