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Saelens & Fiers Unit - Molecular Virology

Research field: Development of wide-spectrum influenza vaccines

Group leader: Prof. Xavier Saelens

Tel:+32 9 33 13 620  -  Fax:+32 9 221 76 73

Strategic Advisor: Prof. em. Dr. Walter Fiers

Tel:+32 9 33 13 600  -  Fax:+32 9 221 76 73

Publications of Walter Fiers
in the UGent bibliography, including pre-VIB publications

Achievements and projects of Walter Fiers

Research topic

Human influenza is a contagious disease caused by influenza A or B viruses. Influenza A viruses circulate in several animal species and create problems, in terms of animal welfare, but also as a reservoir of new genes for humans influenza A viruses. There are just a few small molecule drugs available against flu and the licensed vaccines requires annual updating.
We have developed a universal influenza A vaccine based on the extracellular domain of the conserved M2-protein (M2e). We are elucidating the immune mechanism of action of the M2e-vaccine and try to document its advantage as a disease-modulating vaccine antigen. We are also pursuing a new approach to develop a cross-protective vaccine against influenza B virus and are developing novel antibody-based therapeutics against influenza viruses.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most important cause of acute lower respiratory tract infection in very young children. Disease caused by RSV is very contagious and almost everyone is infected with RSV by the age of two years. In the very young (from birth until the age of two years), the virus can cause severe respiratory tract disease characterized by bronchiolitis (inflammation of the bronchioles),pneumonia, and apnea (temporary cessation of breathing). In the USA, 100,000 children are hospitalized each year due to RSV, and 4500 children die from the infection. Worldwide, RSV causes 180,000 deaths each year. There is no vaccine and only one specific antiviral drug against RSV is currently licensed. Our group has developed a novel RSV vaccine candidate and is developing novel antiviral drugs against this virus.

Area of expertise

  • Influenza Virus characterization
  • Heterologous protein expression
  • Mouse models for influenza infection
  • Influenza-specific T cell analysis

Technology transfer potential

  • Development of wide-spectrum influenza vaccines
  • Alternative animal influenza vaccines
  • Oligomerization of secreted proteins

Selected publications

RSV-infected cell: cell nuclei (in blue)
and RSV antigens (in red)

  1. Schepens et al. Protection and mechanism of action of a novel human respiratory syncytial virus vaccine candidate based on the extracellular domain of small hydrophobic protein.
    EMBO Molecular Medicine, e-published 8-Oct-2014.
  2. Verhelst J et al. Mx proteins: antiviral gatekeepers that restrain the uninvited.
    Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 77, 551-566, 2013.
  3. Schotsaert M et al. Natural and long-lasting cellular immune responses against influenza in the M2e-immune host.
    Mucosal Immunology, 6, 276-287, 2013
  4. Schepens et al. Nanobodies(R) specific for Respiratory Syncytial Virus fusion protein protect against infection by inhibition of fusion. 
    Journal of Infectious Diseases 204, 1692-1701, 2011.
  5. El Bakkouri et al. Universal vaccine based on ectodomain of Matrix Protein 2 of Influenza A: Fc receptors and alveolar macrophages mediate protection.
    Journal of Immunology 186, 1022-1031, 2011.

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