ERIC DELWART, PHD
Senior Investigator, Molecular Virology, Vitalant Research Institute, San Francisco, CA
Eric Delwart, PhD, is a senior investigator at the Vitalant Research Institute and adjunct professor in laboratory medicine at UCSF. He earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry and genetics at Newcastle University in the UK and his MSc in molecular biology at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He was then a research assistant at Genentech in South San Francisco before completing his PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He was a post-doc at Stanford University and assistant professor at NYU and Rockefeller University before joining VRI.
Viral discovery is performed on human, animals, biologics, and environmental samples using viral particle enrichment, random nucleic acid amplification, and deep sequencing followed by bioinformatics analysis for the presence of viral sequences. Through local, national, and international collaborations, biological samples from humans and mammals with unexplained symptoms of possible infectious origins are analyzed for the presence of known and new viruses.
Viral discovery was initiated at the Research Institute in 2004 with the characterization of a previously unknown human parvovirus commonly found in the blood of people with blood exposure, such as injection drug users and hemophiliacs. We have since sequenced numerous genomes of human, animal, insect or unknown cellular origin. Following genome characterization and phylogenetic analysis, our goals are to measure viral prevalence, diversity, and pathogenicity. The Research Institute is equipped with an Illumina MiSeq and a high-performance computing platform for bioinformatics analyses, an example of which can be seen here.
Many human and animal diseases of likely infectious origin remain unexplained. Such diseases may be caused or aggravated by viruses for which genomes have not yet been characterized. Sequencing potential viral pathogen genomes provides the starting information required for studies to determine whether these viruses are associated with unexplained diseases using PCR, in situ hybridization, antibody staining and/or serology.
The complex viromes of different human as well as wild and domesticated animal populations are also characterized to allow future changes associated with disease outbreak to be rapidly identified.
A better definition of the many viruses circulating in different animal species will also help rapidly identify the origin of viral outbreaks from cross-species transmissions.