University of Pennsylvania
Seasonal influenza viruses pose a major threat to the human population, contributing to over 30,000 annual deaths in the United States alone. Influenza viruses rapidly escape pre-existing humoral immunity by accumulating mutations in the viral surface proteins hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). This process, termed “antigenic drift”, creates antigenically distinct viruses, making it difficult to predict which types of viruses will predominate during any given flu season. Antigenic drift is a huge problem for vaccine manufacturers. The Hensley laboratory has 2 major scientific focuses: 1) elucidating mechanisms that promote antigenic drift of influenza viruses and 2) identifying factors that influence influenza vaccine responsiveness. Its overarching goals are to use basic immunological and virological approaches to improve the process by which influenza vaccine strains are chosen, and to develop new influenza vaccines that are protective against antigenically diverse influenza strains.