The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $1,600,000 to Rockefeller University to support research on viral histone mimics led by Professor Alexander Tarakhovsky. Professor Tarakhovsky has discovered a novel mechanism through which viruses may influence host gene expression: he found that in influenza H3N2, the non-structural 1 (NS1) protein acts to downregulate antiviral genes (i.e. weaken host defense systems) by mimicking human histone 3, which interferes with normal histone regulation in the host cell. Professor Tarakhovsky and his collaborators plan to use this grant to further explore this mechanism in the life cycle of the yellow fever virus and to determine whether the mechanism occurs in other host-virus interactions.
We are excited about this grant because we believe that understanding the structure and function of the histone mimics may present a new target for development of antiviral compounds, which we believe is an important element of maximizing pandemic preparedness.
Update: In July 2018, we added $100,000 to the original award amount for additional work on the project. The “grant amount” above has been updated to reflect this.