Professor of Virology and Immunology
- Member of the UK Parliament's COVID-19 Outbreak Expert Database
- Member of the UK Government’s COVID-19 Outbreak Expert Database
Virology, immunology, and evolution; understanding the co-evolution of pathogens and human immune responses and the impact on disease development and progression
My primary research interests are to understand the determinants of virus-specific T cell responses to persistent viral infections with neurological manifestations, the co-evolution of the pathogen and the human immune response and how a better understanding of these interactions might lead to better treatment of these infections, including potentially improving vaccine design.
The main focus has been on human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) because the rapid evolution of this virus allows real-time evaluation of the interplay between the virus and the infected human host, but my group also works on hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human polyomavirus JC (JCV).
Neurological disturbances are frequent in patients with HIV-1 or AIDS. They occur in 30-50% of HIV-infected individuals and can present as the initial symptom, throughout the disease or in advanced AIDS.
HIV-1 might affect the nervous system directly or may act indirectly by weakening the immune system so that tumors of the nervous system or other infections develop. One example is the reactivation of JCV, which cases Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML) in about 5% of untreated AIDS patients and an immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS) in HIV-infected patients receiving antiretroviral therapy. Because a JCV-specific T-cell response is associated with PML survival, it is necessary to understand better the determinants of these responses and how they might be reinforced.
During the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, I have become involved in studies examining, e.g., the effects of coronavirus vaccination and how a SARS-CoV-2 infection affects the risk of other diseases. Moreover, I am involved in ancient DNA studies examining how the pathogenic challenges have changed during the last ~12500 years, the impact this has had on our immune system setup, and the implications for current immune responses to new pathogens and autoimmune disease prevalence.
Ancient DNA reveals evolutionary origins of autoimmune diseases.
Barrie W. et al, (2024), Nat Rev Immunol
Elevated genetic risk for multiple sclerosis emerged in steppe pastoralist populations.
Barrie W. et al, (2024), Nature, 625, 321 - 328
The selection landscape and genetic legacy of ancient Eurasians.
Irving-Pease EK. et al, (2024), Nature, 625, 312 - 320
Acute Inflammatory Diseases of the Central Nervous System After SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination.
Francis AG. et al, (2023), Neurol Neuroimmunol Neuroinflamm, 10
Epitope length variants balance protective immune responses and viral escape in HIV-1 infection
Pymm P. et al, (2022), Cell Reports, 38