Infectious Diseases / Pathogens

At the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, we’re Investigating the origins, evolution, and fundamental biology of pathogens. Our research interests include hepatitis C and E. coli.

Hepatitis C and miRR-122 Gene Research

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects over 3 percent of the world’s population, including more than 3 million people in the United States. HCV infections are on the rise among young people and are a leading cause of death among baby boomers. New treatments are available, but their extremely high prices make them prohibitive for widespread use.

Our team has uncovered new insights as to how HCV can evade emerging therapeutics, as well as how the virus may cause liver cancer. Previous research has found that in order to infect cells, HCV requires the cells to express the gene miR-122. Drugs that inhibit miR-122 were shown to reduce HCV replication. However, our scientists discovered that HCV could evolve specific genetic mutations, allowing it to replicate in cells even when the miR-122 gene was inhibited. They also discovered that the HCV virus itself hijacks the miR-122 gene, diminishing its normal activity in liver cells. Since this gene is known to be a potent tumor repressor, the findings suggest that HCV robs cells of their natural defenses against uncontrolled growth. This outcome may contribute to cancers that arise from chronic HCV infection.

These findings may contribute to the development of more effective of HCV drugs, as well as personalized treatment for patients. In the future, we may also be able to shed light on the link between HCV and the onset of cancer. This study shows us that there are broader implications for this class of microRNA genes and their interaction with targets, which may be useful for a number of diseases in addition to viral hepatitis.

E. coli Outbreak

Our team pioneered a new era of rapid and comprehensive characterization of new pathogens in 2011, during Germany’s deadly E. coli outbreak. The 2011 outbreak affected thousands of people. Fifty people were killed and nearly 1,000 more developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome. We collaborated with researchers from around the world to conduct DNA sequencing of the outbreak strain, along with 11 related strains, to provide the most detailed characterization of the outbreak, including novel insights regarding the strain's evolutionary origins.

Our investigative work continued, leading us to publish our findings in Nature Biotechnology. We discovered that chemical modifications to the DNA (known as epigenetics) of the E. coli outbreak strain played a key role in regulation of gene expression. This affected the key processes of the bacterium's reproduction and virulence.  These novel insights offer promising avenues for therapy development to help prevent and treat future outbreaks.

Our team supports global health efforts by investigating major pathogens. We aim to create a greater understanding of every aspect of the fundamental biology––from the genome to strain evolution, host interaction, societal influence and environmental impacts. We expect our unique analytical capabilities will provide new insights and pave the way for new diagnostics, vaccine development, and treatments.

Our Published Research

Featured below is some of the hepatitis and E.coli research published by our scientists.


”Hepatitis C virus genetics affects miR-122 requirements and response to miR-122 inhibitors.” Read the full study

Gen News Highlight

“Hepatitis C Antiviral Resistance Revealed.” Read more

BioIT World

”Sequencing Reveals Gene Regulation in E. coli.” Read more

The Scientist

”Epigenetics Armed German E. coli.” Read more